Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why I Think Theology Has Sharper Words for Science

One of my first posts for CiC dealt with a NY Times article on the so-called 'humility' of scientific investigation. I challenged that humility then, and I challenge it now. For the NY Times has again offered us some reflections on this point, the focus this time on trying to justify the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva and its physics that are 'all about the search' and not about the results. What makes me so indignant toward this moral posturing? I'd like to say it's my fear that science might disprove God exists, but sadly that's not the case.

On the right is Martin Heidegger's breathtaking thesis on what he calls the 'essence' of modern technology. I am well aware Heidegger is not all the chatter when it comes to conservative theology (though phenomenology, the school of thought he did so much to advance, is still an up and coming enterprise within it, as many of my friends at New College endeavour to show us soon). But what he has to say about technology has fundamentally shaped the way I think about it. Indeed, it makes so much darn sense that I have grown increasingly impatient with scientists who style themselves to be 'all about the search' and blissfully unaware of what that search will produce - and produce is the right word, as I hope to show in a moment.

Let me sketch one point this book defends. Heidegger argued that modern technology in its very essence is radically differentiated from pre-modern technology. He calls pre-modern technology technique, and goes on to explore what this newly-arrived word 'technology' actually signifies. To risk oversimplification, here is what technology means: it is the interpenetrating of knowing and making, the co-penetration of science and art, which for the modern world means that our science is inescapably 'folded' not just toward increasing information (i.e. describing the world, its causalities, etc) but also increasing power over the world.

The form this power takes is the technology that modern science makes not just possible, but inevitable. In crude language, then, modern technological science is about the conquering of non-human and human nature. That this initially may not sound such a bad idea (nature is nary our friend, often our enemy, right?) is because, as Heidegger so perceptively shows, we moderns have embraced a modern metaphysics and self-understanding that places human self-realisation, our freedom from all that hinders, i.e. our autonomy, at a premium. This radical self-willed autonomy, in turn, is, when it boils down to it, the sole moral justification for further technological advancement. In a word, science and autonomy justify one another. They generate a reciprocity, a symbiosis, that philosophically speaking silences any alternative moral ontologies or frameworks from challenging their self-sustained enterprise.

There, I risked it. Oversimplifying that is. So, if you follow at all, and agree at all, then what does theology have to say to science? My initial thought is: a lot more than 'no, really, I think we are compatible!' and similar deferential nonsense.

What theology needs to realise instead is that science as it is currently organised and practised (no matter the well-meaning scientists, to whom we may as well ascribe the best of intentions) upholds the kind of self-possession and self-making that is anathema to Christian theology understood as a total horizon of understanding.

The second would be grasping what humility is. Humility is not wonder paired with ignorance. It is not a psychological disposition that blesses your every good intention proceeding to action. For Christians humility happens first in and through embrace of our creatureliness. Creatureliness in its essence is the acknowledgment of an existence dependent upon true essence. Scientists can be humble in this sense, I have no doubt. Science, however, cannot - cannot, that is, as it is currently practised and understood. For humility Christianly understood is a vantage point or form of living and participating in (and not above or over) the world God has created. It is not about self-possession. It is not about stripping the world, becoming its lord, and discovering our true destiny. Which is what science is folded toward - and why I think theology has sharper words for it, beyond compatibility theses, far away from 'non-overlapping magisteria' evasions.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review: The Gospel According to Lost by Chris Seay

It is clear that author Chris Seay is a huge fan of Lost. He summarizes the show well in The Gospel According to Lost and navigates what could be a confusing five seasons with ease and clarity. My wife and I have been watching Lost from Episode 1 and thus I felt qualified (and excited) to review this book. Typically with a niche book such as this, I find myself saying "this book isn't for everyone, but fans of _________ will enjoy it".

However, I don't feel I can even say that, because all the things that make Lost such an arresting show are missing from this book: deep philosophical questions, challenging theological themes, and a joy in both the mystery and the revelation. Also missing from the book: the Gospel. The "good news" of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the work of Jesus in his death and resurrection was mentioned explicitly once, but that seems a little scarce for a book with "The Gospel According to" in the title.

One of the things that sets Lost apart from other television is the fact that you can tell that the writers are steeped in science, philosophy, literature and theology and it comes out in the writing. I was expecting to find the same intellectual rigors in this book, but was disappointed. This book read more like a collection of blog entries, each focusing on a character or two from the show. Rather than a logical progression through Gospel themes drawn out from the show, each chapter took a disjointed character snapshot and then somewhat awkwardly turned their dominant personality trait into a spiritual reflection. Unfortunately, for a show that so perfectly crafted deep and complex character arcs, this formula made them all seem one-dimensional.

The Gospel According to [fill in the blank]-type books are a strange breed to begin with. It takes a well-studied author (of both his subject matter and relevant philosophical and theological ideas) who can draw the themes of the Gospel out of fictional literature or film without it feeling forced or contrived. Unfortunately this is the very trap into which the book falls. Indeed, I finished the book feeling like nothing significant has been said about the Gospel (or Lost, for that matter).

If you're looking for a brief character study of each of the major players from Lost, you may enjoy this book. If you're looking for an intelligent way to introduce the Gospel into the conversation with diehard Lost fans, you will probably be disappointed.

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

"By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne."

From CiC (and Charles Wesley) to you: Merry Incarnation Day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top 10 Books I Read In 2009

I know this is quite cliche', but it's the Christmas season and all of us slip into the cliche' at some point during December. So I'm going to use my pass on this one: the top ten books I read this year. You may notice that not all the books that make the list were published this year. This is because this is the first year I've been on a serious reading regimine, thus I had some catching up to do in books from past years as well.

Before we begin, I am greatly obliged to those publishers and bookstores who have made much of my reading possible this year through providing free materials for review. We hope your trust in Christians In Context was not without return. Notably, I must thank InterVarsity Press, NavPress Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Tyndale Publishing and the Westminster Bookstore.

10. Finally Alive - John Piper
A beautiful and much needed book for Christianity, John Piper deals thoroughly with the rebirth, regeneration, and new life of the Christian. It is exhaustive without being exhausting or intimidating (as Desiring God and some of his other works can be at times). A great place to start to understand the Reformed position on God's role in our salvation.

9. Tactics - Greg Koukl
This may be the least well-known book on this list, but Greg Koukl (host of the weekly Stand To Reason radio program) has written the perfect handbook on apologetics. He is not answering specific challenges leveled at Christian apologists, rather his book addresses techniques (or tactics) for making a defense for the Christian faith in a way that is honest, charitable and winsome. This book is uniquely helpful.

8. Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) - Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
If there were two cultural movements that generated the most Christian books this year, I am guessing it would be the New Atheism (from without) and the Emergent church (from within . . . Sorta. Maybe. Even they would probably equivocate here). Why We're Not Emergent is a good introduction to the debate though it's obvious which camp they are coming from.

7. Hollywood Worldviews - Brian Godawa
As a Christian in the movie industry, Brian Godawa is uniquely positioned to write this book. Even for those of you who don't spend much time talking or thinking about worldviews, this book has much to benefit from. In particular the first and last chapters lay out some excellent guidelines and principles for watching and engaging with Hollywood and it's culture. This book was well written, even better thought-out, and I endorse it to anyone who likes movies. I'm assuming that's all of you.

6. Total Church - Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
This book will not be for everyone, but for those in church ministry this is a must-read. While not a revolutionary book on how to "do church", it gives a wonderful picture of how a healthy church "does life together". (Shoot me for using those phrases) Do you believe church is simply meeting once a week? You must read this book. Do you believe it is something much more? You will love this book.

5. Hidden Worldviews - Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford
In Hidden Worldviews, Authors Steve and Mark deal with what they call "lived worldviews". These lived worldviews include such ideas as individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism and salvation by therapy. Every chapter details both the truth or good as well as potential problems of each worldview before drawing a conclusion. In this manner, the authors present a very even-handed treatment of each idea without sounding alarmist or too "Chicken Little". A very refreshing read and quite unique in it's approach and subject matter.

4. The Reason For God - Timothy Keller
Dealing with some of the biggest and most common objections to Christianity, Tim Keller has written one of the best apologetic books for Christianity that I have ever read. So good, in fact, that I have not been able to keep it in my possession since reading it because I've been perpetually loaning it out.

3. Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller
Yes, as I warned, this book is the best example of how behind I am on my reading. I'm sure this was on everyone else's list five years ago but better late than never I suppose. And I certainly see what all the hype was about. Don talks about his own spiritual journey in a very existential manner, but there is enough orthodoxy in here to keep even a doctrinal stickler as myself mollified.

2. When Helping Hurts - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Steve and Brian have written the best book I have ever read for the Christian and poverty relief. This book is full of insights from two guys that have seen it work on the ground level. Insights like: how poverty of all sorts is linked to man's fallenness, the different stages of poverty and the different ways they need to be addressed, and how we perpetuate instead of alleviate poverty by just throwing money at it. This book is greatly needed and will become more important in the coming years as celebrity poverty aid and social justice gospels grow in popularity.

1. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl - N.D. Wilson
I am well aware that my number one book is probably not on anyone else's list or even on their radar. And it is their loss. While not everyone liked this book as much as I did (Pastor Lee), no other book this year made me goose-bumpy or made me laugh and cry at the same time. His writing evokes emotion like the best fiction, scratches the brain like the best philosophy, and stirs a love for Creator and creation like the best theology. His thoughts come out jumbled and scatter-shot, but in the end he paints a beautiful word picture.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Should We Care About the Virgin Birth?


But at least one pastor has a few comments that seem to indicate otherwise. In this post, Paul Janssen's main point is to ask his readers about the role the virgin birth plays in their Christian lives. But in the process he mentions two things that pretty much all of us know: (1) that pre-Christian religions had virgin births; (2) that Matthew mistranslated Isaiah 7:14 when he substituted "virgin" for the OT's broader, "young woman". He doesn't say for sure, but Janssen is apparently skeptical of the NT's accounts.

Well, I took issue with the post in a comment there that I figured might be worth reproducing here for those of you who are generally interested in this issue or who share his assumptions. I hope it helps:

    Three things:

    (1) What other virgin births are you thinking of, specifically?

    (2) You say that most of us are aware of Matthew's mistranslation of Isaiah 7. For one thing, properly speaking it would be the LXX's mistranslation more than Matthew's, since he sticks very close to the LXX in that quote.

    But more importantly, the Gk. parthenos, which most certainly means "virgin" in English, is quite a reasonable translation of the Hebrew almah. Almah only occurs a handful of times in the Hebrew Bible, but in all but one case it most certainly refers to an unmarried woman (i.e. a "virgin"), and in only one case is it possible for it to refer to a married young woman, [and even there] it really could go either way (that reference escapes me right now, because my old computer broke so I don't have my BibleWorks, and my good commentaries are in my office!).

    All that to say this: to say that all of us recognize that Matthew has mistranslated Isaiah 7:14 is, well, wrong for both of the reasons that I gave

    (3) I should also add that Matthew 1:18-25 paints the picture of Jesus basically being adopted by Joseph- that is where the text wants us to go, I think, despite that it doesn't actually use the word "adopted". Remarkable then, isn't it, that our Lord's adoption into the line of David is seen as enough for him to be truly David's son, no less than if he were physically born of a descendant of David. Why is this remarkable? Because, of course, we Gentiles were not in the line Abraham, yet we receive the promises given to him. We sinners were also not the true sons of God, but we were adopted by the Father. If adoption is good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for us. Virginal conception points to the nature of our Lord and to the precedent he sets for us in beautiful ways.

(HT: Kevin DeYoung, who responded in greater length and detail on his blog- my version is something like the cliffnotes of his.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I know as I write this that I am heading for some controversy as what I am about to suggest has already garnered some significant push-back from my own wife and mother in law. However, I also know there are some theologically-minded thinkers out there, and I wanted to get some opinions or counter-arguments for my current position.

I am the worship pastor for Redeemer Church in Omaha, Nebraska and this past Sunday was the last Sunday before Christmas. Now, much to the disappointment of my wife and the surprise of others, I only included one Christmas carol in our Sunday worship set list ("Angels From the Realms of Glory"), though I did include a couple songs that we sing during the rest of the year that focus on the incarnation ("Here I Am To Worship", "Love Came Down"). My dilemma is as follows:

There seems to be a shortage of Christmas carols that are theologically accurate, deep and significant and lyrically well-written as worship is considered. While most of the Christmas carols carry a lot of sentimental religious significance for most of us because we sing them every year around Christmas, I find at least some of them wanting when compared with the songs (both hymns and modern worship) that I choose for services the rest of the year.

My criteria for such songs is as follows:
  1. Theological accuracy
  2. Theological depth and significance (In other words, even if it's true, is it weighty?)
  3. Theological breadth (In other words, do we have to wade through a bunch of sentimental lines to get to one nugget of truth?)
  4. Lyrical beauty (In this I often focus on the refrain. Are we repeating a line that bears repeating and encourages worship?)
If you don't believe me, go back and read the lyrics for "Away In a Manger", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem", "We Three Kings" or "Silent Night". Even considering the second-tier songs that some may not consider Christmas carols we have songs such as "Do You Hear What I Hear?", "I Saw Three Ships", "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "Little Drummer Boy". I feel like most of these songs fail on at least point #3, where we must muddle through a lot of poetic imagery to get to the significant theology of the songs.

Of course, anyone inclined to disagree with me will simply say I am picking songs that prove my point, and they may have an argument. However, I find carols such as "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing", "Angels In The Realms of Glory" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" to be the exception rather than the rule.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas carols. I still remember distinctly my frustration and surprise the first year I tried to find good Christmas carols to incorporate into a worship set. Most Christmas carols seem to be a genre to themselves, even when compared with the hymns from the same time period. There is, in general, more poetic imagery simply there to set a tone than to communicate something theologically significant. Much of it is a retelling of a historical event, but again, not in the theologically deep ways that we find in the hymns regarding the crucifixion and resurrection.

Feel free to respond but please be nice in the conversation, I am being intentionally incite-ful as much as insightful in this post. After all, I'd love to be proven wrong and have more songs to use in church next Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On War, Rights, and Obama's Nobel Speech

I've (all too inadequately) posted on the problematic theological notion of inalienable rights, on the 'politics of Jesus' in favour of non-violence over just war, and on the question of Christian political theology or ethics. This recent response from Prof. Stanley Hauerwas (another frequent citation of mine) on President Obama's 'remarkable' speech for the Nobel Peace Prize seems to tie several of these threads together. Here are a few excerpts I wish to highlight:
But there is a deep conceptual issue that he does not raise concerning war. That issue is: how do you know a war is a war? He begins with the claim that war in one form or another appeared with the first man. One assumes he’s referring to Cain and Abel. But what happened between Cain and Abel was not war. It was murder. His lack of clarity about what distinguishes war from other kinds of violence becomes the basis for his claim that because evil exists then war is necessary. Thus his suggestion that war is simply “there,” requiring acknowledgement. To recognize the necessity of war is to simply acknowledge history. But that is simply an assertion without argument.
And this:
Of course the idealism that is shaping his justification for war is extremely dangerous. Thus his claim that a “just peace” should be based on the inherent right and dignity of every individual. He then underwrites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a basis for accomplishing the peace that war makes possible. But to make rights the rationale for going to war will make war even more difficult to control. It may be, as he maintains, that peace is unstable if most rights are denied. But it is just as likely that claims for rights will lead to what some call war.
These suggestive comments require some unpacking, I grant that. That they require unpacking should not excuse us from thinking seriously about them as Christians. We are nearing the celebration of the birth of Christ, the 'Prince of Peace' and God Incarnate. What have we still to learn from Him? Maybe it is not non-violence. Maybe it is. But I know this much: it is not merely a 'private' message. His reign is so much bigger than that.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Santa loves me, this I know

This morning I was listening to a radio DJ take calls from little boys and girls who were sharing what they'd asked Santa for this year. I was only listening briefly, but after one little girl gave her wish list, the DJ said, "Thanks for calling, Santa loves you".

Santa loves you? I am nearing my 28th Christmas (only 23 or so that I remember) and I don't remember Santa's love being part of his lore. Perhaps it is there in the background as an assumption, but his predominant characteristic seems to be a rewarder of the good kids and (at least in theory) a reprimander of the bad kids. Santa always seemed more impersonal and karmic than loving to me.

Am I reading too much into this? Or is John Granger's insight on movies somewhat true of the Santa lore as well? "When God is driven to the periphery of the public square, the human spiritual capacity longs for exercise, and it often finds it in the 'suspension of disbelief' and activity of the imagination."

Could it be that when we drive a God of love (and a God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked) to our periphery, we shape our cultural myths and stories to fill that void? Or am I just making too much out of what a disc jockey said on the radio? Discuss.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keep Christ in Christianity

Thanks to the generous folks over at Baker Books, I will soon be posting a dual review of Michael Horton's Christless Christianity along with his sequel, The Gospel-Driven Life. While the former offers a diagnosis of the slipping Gospel in the American church, the latter details the solution. However, since I am barely half way through Christless Christianity and have already left a great deal of ink in the book, I felt compelled to share some of the highlights thus far.
"Far from clashing with the culture of consumerism, American religion appears to be not only at peace with our narcissism but gives it a spiritual legitimacy." (p. 20)

"Exemplifying the moralistic and therapeutic approach to religion, Osteen's message is also a good example of the inability of Boomers to mourn in the face of God's judgment or dance under the liberating news of God's saving mercy. In other words, all gravity is lost—both the gravity of our problem and of God's amazing grace." (p. 71)

"The old-time religion may have been legalistic, adding its own rules and regulations to God's law, but at least it recognized that God commanded certain things. Today it is less about measuring ourselves against God's holy will than about helping make good people better through good advice." (p. 110)

"Hitching our wagon to the spirit of the age, whatever we call it, always leads to one form or another of culture-Christianity—in other words, to our native Pelagianism." (p. 111)

"We do not preach ourselves but Christ. The good news—not only for ourselves, but for a world (and church) in desperate need of good news—is that what we say preaches better than our lives, at least if what we are saying is Christ's person and work rather than our own. The more we talk about Christ as the Bible's unfolding mystery and less about our own transformation, the more likely we are actually to be transformed rather than either self-righteous or despairing. As much as it goes against our grain, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for justification and sanctification." (p. 118)

The Image of God in Man and Christ

The Bible speaks of the image of God in two ways. Gen. 1:27 says that humans are made in the image of God. Col. 1:15 says that Christ is the image of the invisible God.

The creation of humans in the image of God means, among other things, that humans in some way reflect something of the nature of God. Thus, the plural God creates not just a man, but man and woman. Thus, God mediates his authority over the earth through his image-bearers (Gen. 1:28). But sin marred that image and introduced a creation-wide curse.

Jesus was not created, but is and always was the perfect image of God. What sinful man marred, sinless Christ displayed perfectly as the incarnate Son of God. The authority of God over not only the earth, but indeed over all creation, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, is expressed in that perfect image, Christ. Christ, not Adam, is the firstborn over all creation.

So how do these two relate?

The answer comes in our being adopted by God the Father by means of being incorporated into Christ. We are not sons and daughters of God along with Christ, but in Christ. Thus " [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." (Col. 2:9-10). Paul explained Christ's headship over all rule and authority in 1:15-20, only to say that humans are filled in Christ and his fullness here in ch. 2. 3:9b-10 relates it back to Christ as Image of God: "...seeing that you have put off the old man with its practices and have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator."

Put simply, Christians are adopted by the Father through our incorporation into the Son so that the image of God in man is renewed in the Son's perfect image. Put even more simply, my life is Christ's life. So the foundation of Christian living in Col. 3, before any specific moral command, is this: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God...For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col. 3:1, 3).

For all who follow Christ, the image of God in man is no longer the old sin-marred image from Eden, but the untainted image of the Son. That perfected image is what we strive for and what the Spirit points to in our every day attempt at sanctification.

This is also why we don't long for a return to Eden; we long for the New Creation, when our lives in Christ will look much more, well, Christly. Spiritual new creation surpasses the old creation, even before sin. Adam didn't look like God in Gen. 1 nearly so much as we will in Rev. 21.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas Sweeney

If you can't judge a book by its cover, perhaps you can by its subtitle. At least such is the case with Douglas Sweeney's new Edwards biography, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought. I went into this book expecting detailed discussion of Edwards' use of Scripture in pastoral ministry, and I did get some of that. What I got was hagiography-as-spiritual-teaching. Sweeney's biography is a short (200 pages of 1.5 spaced font with lots of skimmable footnotes), readable introduction to Edwards' life and thought aimed at Christians who want to learn from "the greatest American theologian".

Insofar as this was Sweeney's goal, it was well-accomplished. After laboring through Marsden's authoritative tome, I breezed through Sweeney's work in a couple days- this from someone who reads with painful slothfulness. For that matter, Marsden's endorsement of Sweeney's book is proof-positive that it is at the very least a faithful treatment, as is Kenneth Minkema's.

And why shouldn't they endorse it? The biography covers each major portion of Edwards' life with brevity and clarity. Perhaps more impressive is Sweeney's remarkably lucid summary of some of Edwards' most important works (including Freedom of the Will and The End for Which God Created the World, et. al.) in the course of one short chapter. Further, each portion of the book is laced with extensive quotations from Edwards himself, so much so that I wonder if I have read more of Edwards' own writing in Sweeney or in Marsden, despite the latter's far greater length. The reader walks away with a real sense of Edwards' writing and preaching, and hopefully a hunger for more.

Still, even in a biography so consciously aimed at Christians, must we never critique the subject? So for example, Sweeney of course admits that Edwards owned slaves, but he does so with almost pitiful apology- as if Edwards was an older brother and Sweeney heard someone making fun of him. Or take his discussion of Edwards' removal from his Northampton pastorate, where Sweeney refrains from criticizing any of Edwards' actions. The closest he comes is this conclusion:
The Great Awakening proved divisive. But it also crystallized the crucial importance of conversion and of living life with eschatological urgency. Whatever one thinks of his personality or his ministerial methods, Edwards' genius for conveying these priorities was great. As we will see further below, moreover, his courage in living them out was greater.
One wonders what the author in fact does "think of his personality or his ministerial methods". Was Jonathan Edwards really all genius and courage?

Sweeney's biography will be useful to the Christian who wants an introduction to the life of Edwards. He finishes the work with seven theses that seek to apply Edwards' model to modern church life, and these may actually be the most helpful part of the book. Even if more focus on Edwards' "ministry of the word" (the title really did mislead me in this regard) and balanced assessment of Edwards the man would help, I would still be glad to pass this book along to the Christian wanting to learn from Edwards. For my part, I hope that more Christians will seek to do just that.

NB: This book was given to me for review by InterVarsity Press free of charge.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Church You Know PSA's

Here's some funny, poignant satire from some of my brother's friends:

On Tithing:

On Worship:

On Being a Part of the Body of Christ:

On What Jesus Would Do with $50,000:

There are a few others, too, but these are my favorites. For the rest, search "The Church You Know" on youtube and just start following the recommendations.

As an aside, these videos are Christian satire done right. Genuinely funny, genuinely poignant, all without being so condescending that I get too angry at the satirist to bother listening.

The 6 Essential Truths of the Gospel, According to Piper

Click here for a really worthwhile use of three and a half minutes.

Though I should say that there probably should be more in there about kingdom. Still, helpful stuff.

HT: Glen


Peter Leithart has some helpful words that correspond to my critique here: "Jesus, in short, talks about justification by faith all the time. Justification by faith is the gospel of Jesus. Because 'justification by faith' means 'Your king comes.'" Click here for the whole thing.

HT on the Update: James Grant

Friday, December 11, 2009

Inalienable Rights? False.

'Indeed I want to argue that America is the only country that has the misfortune of being founded on a philosophical mistake--namely, the notion of inalienable rights. We Christians do not believe that we have inalienable rights. That is the false presumption of Enlightenment individualism, and it opposes everything that Christians believe about what it means to be a creature.' From Stanley Hauerwas, 'Abortion: Theologically Considered'
You can find the rest of the (somewhat dated) article here. My purpose is to draw attention to the notion of subjective or inalienable rights, which is enshrined in our beloved Constitution, but which I (also) believe is a fiction, and which I think Christians ought to find theologically promiscuous.

I wrote last week about the 'Manhattan Declaration' and its wholesale, unflinching appropriation of inalienable rights as theologically based in the imago Dei. I've never been to a Bible Study where our discussion of Genesis 1, Philippians 2, heck, all of Paul's letters, devolved to the recognition that we all should have religious liberties, rights to property, and rights to download pornography and not be held legally culpable. That's meant to be provocative, yes, but it has its purpose as well. It should show us how defunct, how handicapped, how theologically nonsensical American political theology often is. And should force all of us to rethink some of our basic principles and allegiances.

I agree with Hauerwas that this was America's founding philosophical mistake. But it was also its theological mistake, borne from the good intentions of mostly well-meaning Christians. There is a not so fine line between accepting political reality as-is and having to accept the role of prophet within and against it. America in its essence implies far more theological problems than our Americanised Christianity is able, at times, to admit. I don't think that's a scholarly point either. Christians should feel that in our bones every time our fellow Christians try to justify their inalienable rights on the basis of the Gospel that calls men everywhere, at all times, daily, to die.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book Review: God Is Great, God Is Good

The New Atheists have been getting a lot of attention lately; first from the general public because of their writings, and then from the Christian community because of the general public's interest. And just as the ideas of the Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett have spawned several books, so the rebuttals of Christian academia have also been the fodder for many publications in the last year or so.

God Is Great, God Is Good is one of the finest examples of this mini-genre and it brings together some of the sharpest minds in Christian apologetics. Names like Michael Behe, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig offer their best defense for Christianity against the charges of the New Atheists. The diversity of authors in this book is perhaps both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: strength because each author can focus on their respective field, and weakness because there is a noticeable absence of a clear train of thought from one chapter to the next.

While the flow of a single-author sort of book is missing, the structure of the book in the way the essays were grouped was quite appealing and seemed to address the general categories of challenges from the New Atheists well:
  1. God Is (God's existence)
  2. God Is Great (God's creative design)
  3. God Is Good (God's goodness)
  4. Why It Matters (A shift from theistic issues generally to Chrstianity specifically)
These authors certainly are nicer (and at times more academic) than the New Atheists have a reputation of being. Love them or hate them, however, the New Atheists seem to connect with something in their audience when they are at their most acerbic, sarcastic, and down-right nasty. There is a side of me that wishes that someone would sink to their level and deal with their charges in like form, but it is certainly to Christianity's credit that no one yet has done so.

All in all, God Is Great, God Is Good is a great book from many great writers addressing the challenges levelled by the New Atheists. While a few of these ideas and arguments may be over the heads of some, this book is a perfect introduction for someone who is ready to tackle the hot topics of the debate but is unfamiliar with the major players or where to get started.

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press Academic.

Why Twilight Is So Bleeding Popular (Yes, pun intended)

Though I have not seen any of the Twilight movies yet, I found this article by John Granger to be completely fascinating and on point about popular entertainment.

Touchstone Archives: Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden:
"I suggest that the Twilight series is something for thoughtful people to be aware of and to think seriously about, first, because of its remarkable hold on the imagination of American readers and movie-goers, but second, and more important, because of the reason these books are so popular: They meet a spiritual need. Mircea Eliade, in his book The Sacred and the Profane, suggests that popular entertainment, especially imaginative literature and film, serves a religious or mythic function in a secular culture. When God is driven to the periphery of the public square, the human spiritual capacity longs for exercise, and it often finds it in the 'suspension of disbelief' and activity of the imagination that are available in novels and movies.

The books and films that satisfy this spiritual longing most profoundly are the ones that have religious content of some kind, sometimes any kind. Not just The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia but also Harry Potter and The Matrix contain symbolism and religious notes that resonate with readers and moviegoers.

People are drawn to, and many are consumed by, those books and movies that most engagingly and convincingly deliver or smuggle in this religious content and mythic meaning. Not surprisingly, though, this meaning cannot tear down or even challenge the golden calves of our modern moral landscape."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Augustine: Creation Is Screaming At You

Creation is a great book. He set before your eyes the things He has made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that? Augustine, Sermon 126.6
Perhaps. Incarnation. Crucifixion. Resurrection. This voice, 'Word' in John's Gospel, is not in any case forgotten by Augustine. What is creation screaming? At least one thing: you are creature, frail and fraught. Start your questions there.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mary Did You Know, Reconsidered

"Mary Did You Know?" is one of my least favorite of all Christmas songs. Most times I hear the "Mary, did you know..." refrain, I want to respond, "Nope." Of course she didn't know that Jesus would "one day walk on water" and "calm the storm with his hand". The whole idea is absurd.

Some friends of mine and I have talked about some of the stranger things that Jesus did that Mary wouldn't have known, and the possibility of adding them into a new version of the song. Below were a few of our ideas- tell me what you think:
  • "Mary did you know that your baby boy would rub some mud in a blind dude's eyes?"
  • "Mary did you know that your baby boy would make a whip to clear the temple?"
  • "Mary did you know that your baby boy would say the Pharisees were whitewashed tombs?"
  • "Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day curse a fig tree?"
  • "Mary did you know that your baby boy would say that you aren't really his mother 'cause his disciples were his real family"
  • "Mary did you know that the church fathers would have councils about your baby's divine/human essence?"
It might take some extra work to get the phrasing on the melody down on some of them, but you could make it happen. Any other ideas are welcomed...