Sunday, August 2, 2015

C.S. Lewis on temperance

From C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity (Book 3, Ch. 2, "The 'Cardinal Virtues'"):
Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened "Temperance", it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jesus the unicorn

From a 12-century Latin bestiary:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is also a Unicorn spiritually, about whom it is said: "And he was beloved like the Son of the Unicorns." And in another psalm: "He hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his son David."
The fact that it has just one horn on its head means what he himself said: "I and the Father are One." Also, according to the Apostle: "The head of Christ is the Lord."
It says that he is very swift because neither Principalities, nor Powers, nor Thrones, nor Dominations could keep up with him, nor could Hell contain him, nor could the most subtle Devil prevail to catch or comprehend him; but, by the sole will of the Father, he came down into the virgin womb for our salvation.
It is described as a tiny animal on account of the lowliness of his incarnation, as he said himself: "Learn from me, because I am mild and lowly of heart."
It is like a kid or scapegoat because the Saviour himself was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and from sin he condemned sin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Weight of Glory in Donne, Shakespeare, and Lewis

From John Donne's Sermon LXVI, preached on January 29, 1625 (emphasis mine):
All our life is a continual burden, yet we must not groan; a continual squeezing, yet we must not pant; and as in the tenderness of our childhood, we suffer, and yet are whipped if we cry, so we are complained of, if we complain, and made delinquents if we call the times ill. And that which adds weight to weight, and multiplies the sadness of this consideration, is this, That still the best men have had most laid upon them. As soon as I hear God say, That he hath found an upright man [Job], that fears God, and eschews evil, in the next lines I find a commission to Satan, to bring in Sabeans and Chaldeans upon his cattle, and servants, and fire and tempest upon his children, and loathsome diseases upon himself. As soon as I hear God say, That he hath found a man according to his own heart [David], I see his sons ravish his daughters, and then murder one another, and then rebel against the father, and put him into straits for his life. As soon as I hear God testify of Christ at his baptism, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, I find that Son of his led by the Spirit to be tempted of the devil. And after I hear God ratify the same testimony again, at his transfiguration, (This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased) I find that beloved Son of his, deserted, abandoned, and given over to scribes, and Pharisees, and publicans, and Herodians, and priests, and soldiers, and people, and judges, and witnesses, and executioners, and he that was called the beloved Son of God, and made partaker of the glory of heaven, in this world, in his transfiguration, is made now the sewer of all the corruption, of all the sins of this world, as no Son of God, but a mere man, as no man, but a contemptible worm. As though the greatest weakness in this world, were man, and the greatest fault in man were to be good, man is more miserable than other creatures, and good men more miserable than any other men.
But then there is Pondus Gloriae, An exceeding weight of eternal glory, and that turns the scale; for as it makes all worldly prosperity as dung, so it makes all worldly adversity as feathers. And so it had need; for in the scale against it, there are not only put temporal afflictions, but spiritual too; and to these two kinds, we may accommodate those words, He that falls upon this stone, (upon temporal afflictions) may be bruised, broken, But he upon whom that stone falls, (spiritual afflictions) is in danger to be ground to powder. And then, the great, and yet ordinary danger is, that these spiritual afflictions grow out of temporal; murmuring, and diffidence in God, and obduration, out of worldly calamities; and so against nature, the fruit is greater and heavier than the tree, spiritual heavier than temporal afflictions.
In typical Donne fashion, the sermon piles on paradox after paradox, followed by a sonnet-like turn. Ronald Bond, in A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, writes about Donne's sermon in the entry on "Scales,"
Donne, in his "Second Prebend Sermon," recalls the [scales/weighing] tradition by juxtaposing against numerous biblical passages which insist on the aggravation of human vanity the alleviating notion of pondus gloriae ("the weight of glory"): "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worth for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17). Although the image itself is not foregrounded, the scales give rise to frequent weighing metaphors in several of Shakespeare's plays, notably Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice. (683, emphasis mine)
And of course, we can't forget about C.S. Lewis's famous "Weight of Glory" sermon from 1942.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Overstated Catholic criticism

It's common for both Catholics and Protestants to overstate their cases in order to make "the other side" look more deficient than it really is. Here's an example of Catholic overstatement from Keller's Prayer (182-83, bolding mine):
Modern Roman Catholic writers like Hans Urs von Balthasar have acknowledged the difficulty of holding the "exterior Word" of the Bible together with the "interior, indwelling Word" of the Spirit. [Von Balthasar Prayer, 28-29]. Von Balthasar concedes that the Catholic mystical tradition tends to rely too much on the inward, passing very quickly into a tranquil beholding, while Protestants are better at studying the Scripture in order to hear God, and then to wrestle with and respond to him. He counters, however, that Protestants, for their part, have too weak an understanding of the indwelling Spirit to lead them to profound experience. He thinks they settle for mere doctrinal knowledge. As we have seen, it is true that many Protestants are hesitant about spiritual experience. Nevertheless, the best Protestant theologies of the Holy Spirit are more than adequate for the task, as Owen's massive treatises and robust spiritual theology [e.g., The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ] attest.
Keller adds an endnote (313n299, bolding mine):
Von Balthasar says that Protestant pietism and revivalism has tried to recapture the missing element of the reality of the indwelling Spirit, but the attempts have not succeeded because "of the lack of an objective and official ecclesial act of worship with its surrounding liturgy," 29. It is obviously a very sweeping statement to say Protestant efforts to promote spiritual experience have basically failed.
On a related note, here's a section from the introduction of Erich Przywara's recently translated Analogia Entis (19-20, bolding mine):
[I]n Przywara's view the differences between Catholic and Lutheran-Reformed theology are not so much ecclesiological or soteriological as metaphysical, stemming from fundamentally different conceptions of the relation between God and world—a difference that subsequently plays out in varying degrees of Protestant suspicion with regard to any real creaturely cooperation with grace (as regards justification) or any real creaturely mediation of grace (as regards the church and sacraments). For whereas Catholic theology maintains the similarity-in-difference between God and creature (a similarity that the sinfulness of human beings cannot altogether destroy), dialectical theology [Barth's theology], precisely to the extent that it denies any potent oboedientialis [pre-conversion potential for obedience], ironically collapses the very difference between God and creature that it seeks at all costs to maintain. Simply put, to the extent that the creature is reduced to nothing—having lost even the capacity to respond to grace—God becomes everything [theopanism].
This is a Jesuit way of connecting Protestantism with Hinduism.

To respond only to a part of the above quote, instead of talking about the "Protestant suspicion [of cooperation or mediation]," couldn't one just as easily talk about the the Catholic suspicion of the sufficiency of Christ?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Be gentle . . . sometimes

It can be surprising how nuanced the Bible's commands to us are, even within the same biblical passages. And when we preach only one side, eclipsing the other side, we lose the full meaning of God's communication to us.

Be gentle.
2 Timothy 2:23-26: Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Titus 1:7-9: For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Be harsh.
1 Timothy 5:20: As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
2 Timothy 4:14: Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.
Titus 1:10-13: For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Charles Taylor's exclusive certainty

James W. Sillen reviews Taylor's A Secular Age in Pro Rege (March 2015, pp. 1-11), and he asks the question, "How Far Does Charles Taylor Take Us in Developing a Christian Understanding of the Secular Age?" Here's a quotation (p. 4):
Taylor makes an even sharper judgment (than the one about recognition/misrecognition) when he criticizes those who think "they have got God right" or who think they are pure and right. Such judgments are clearly idolatrous, he says, and "idolatry breeds violence" (769). Here he sounds very much like those modernists who are convinced that strong religious claims spell danger and lead to violence. Yet Taylor also sounds very postmodern in his objection to anyone who makes a claim to certainty about universal truth. How then can he be sure he is right in criticizing those who claim to have gotten God right? What moral norms ground that judgment and what is the root of those norms? To speak of idolatry in the strong sense sounds pre-modern, not modern or post-modern. But Taylor is clearly not using the word "idol" to mean what it means in the Bible or in traditional Christianity. "Idolatry" is a charge he levels at those who exhibit an immodest attitude when they draw an "unambiguous boundary between the pure [themselves] and the impure" (769). He is not joining a debate about the true God and false gods. Rather, he is asserting an unqualified judgment about the boundary between modest from immodest attitudes and social behaviors: it is pretentious and self-righteous (from Taylor's point of view) for anyone to make the claim that they can draw an "unambiguous boundary" or get God right. He is sure he is right about that. . . . Taylor gives no account of how he came to his exclusivist judgment about idolatrous belief, and throughout the book he mostly avoids expressing such definite, unqualified opinions.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 PEN Hemingway Award

Arna Bontemps Hemenway, a Baylor University writing prof, recently won the 2015 PEN Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction. Arna is the youngest person ever to have been accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop, which Raymond Carver (literary influence on Bret Lott), Flannery O'Connor, and other prestigious writers attended, and where Francine Prose, Marilynne Robinson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and others have taught. Here is Arna's personal website.

Arna's award-winning book is titled Elegy on Kinderklavier, and here is what the judges wrote about it:
In Elegy on Kinderklavier, attention is salvation. These stories are not afraid to stare in unblinking and finely grained detail at the great sad problem of being alive. One is at first anxious when the story does not look away from the tremendous emotional, structural, and physical violence of contemporary life. Then one is thrilled, terrified, and at last comforted, since what is left, when this awesome attention has dissolved everything else, is a sense of goodness in life that's hard enough to break bones.
Here is his acceptance speech from the spring (22:00 - 37:00).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Charles Taylor's eloquent relativism

In making a good point about the value of multiple perspectives (see Prov. 11:14, 15:22, and 24:6), Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age, wanders into the weeds and waxes eloquent about the value of the both/and perspective. (For more on Taylor and waxing, see here.) He says that we can look at the Council of Trent (16c) and Vatican 2 (20c) as two different (and complementary) ways of viewing our place in the immanent frame. "On one hand, we can postulate that what is at stake here is the ultimately and totally right understanding of Catholic Christianity" (752). This statement applies not only to how Trent viewed things, but also to how contemporary Christians view Trent and Vat2: who was right? "The second framework in which we can understand [things] postulates that what is at stake is complementary insights. Neither is simply right or wrong about a single issue, but each brings a fresh perspective which augments and enriches our understanding. The issue is to see how these different insights fit together . . ." (752). Because the universe contains no contradictions, apparently. And the Catholic Church certainly doesn't. Trent and Vat2 aren't in contradiction—they're, um, complementary.

The reason that Taylor's point is so good is that he is willing, kind of, to view weirdos like Jonathan Edwards somewhat charitably, if patronizingly (754). Poor Johnny was just a product of his time and really didn't know any better when he said all that stuff about sinners and an angry God. The reason that Taylor's point is so bad is that he doesn't apply it consistently. He wants to say that Trent's way of viewing the world (in black and white, wrong and right) is really quite harmful, and Taylor's both/and relativism is his way of giving himself permission to toss out the doctrine of Hell, God's wrath, etc., because we can't stubbornly cling to the past and ignore all the lovely contemporary viewpoints. While he weakly acknowledges that our loss of Hell and God's wrath may actually be problematic (753), he has been clear that the loss of God's wrath is mostly a pretty sweet thing (670-71). In fact, claiming that there is such a thing as right and wrong is hurtful, he says. That's too polarizing, and we need to accept multiple viewpoints in our conversation. (No word yet on whether or not we're allowed to land anywhere, after we have this conversation, or if it's just one long conversation with no one ever taking a position on anything.)

Here are just a few examples where Taylor fails to apply his both/and theory, plus my attempts to help him out. Not that I necessarily believe my addenda; I'm simply trying to help Taylor be as ecumenical as possible.
  • "We have to grasp these historical differences bi-focally" (753). Or not.
  • "[I]n one way, we are dealing with right/wrong issues, in which each change is a gain or loss of truth; in another [way, we are dealing] with different avenues of approach to the faith from out of very different ways of life. A total focus on the first can blind us to the second. And this would be a great loss" (753). Or it wouldn't be.
  • "Neither [side] grasps the whole picture" (754). Or maybe one side does.
  • "We will never be without [hermeneutical] issues; the belief that they can be finally set aside by some secure instance of authority, whether the Bible or the Pope, is a dangerous and damaging illusion" (754). Or it isn't.
  • "[T]he Church, as a communion of different peoples and ages, in mutual understanding and enrichment, is damaged, limited, and divided by an unfounded total belief in one's truth, which really better deserves the name of heresy" (755). Or it doesn't deserve that name. Or maybe heresy is fine anyway. Let's be ecumenical, here.
  • "The goal . . . is not to return to an earlier formula . . ." (755). Or it is.
Ravi Zacharias once told a story of his interaction with a philosophy professor who insisted that Ravi was operating from a Western either/or paradigm, and he needed, rather, to accept that Eastern people operate from a both/and paradigm. Ravi, who is obviously more Eastern than Western, as far as ethnicity goes, and who is fully aware of Eastern philosophies and religions, said, "So either I remain in my blinded either/or perspective, or I adopt a superior both/and perspective?" The philosopher replied, "The either/or perspective does tend to emerge, doesn't it?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Lord's Supper

From The Reformation Study Bible (p. 1814 in the older edition):
The Lord's Supper is an act of worship taking the form of a ceremonial meal, in which Christ's servants share bread and wine to commemorate Christ's death and to celebrate the new covenant relationship they enjoy with God.
Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord's Supper, to be observed in His church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body (Westminster Confessions 29.1).
The biblical passages dealing with the Supper, on which the above statement is based, are found in Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; and 1 Cor. 10:16-21; 11:17-34. Jesus' sermon (John 6:35-58) about Himself as the bread of life and the need to feed on Him by eating His flesh and drinking His blood, was preached before the Supper was instituted, and is better understood as being about what the Supper signifies, communion with Christ by faith, than about the Supper itself.
At the time of the Reformation, questions about the nature of Christ's presence in the Supper and the relation of the Supper to His atoning death were centers of stormy controversy. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Christ is present by transubstantiation, as defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. "Transubstantiation" means that the substance of the bread and wine is miraculously transformed into Christ's body and blood. The bread and wine are no longer bread and wine, though they appear to be. Luther's doctrine, later called "consubstantiation," was that Christ's body and blood are present "in, with, and under" the form of the bread and wine, which in itself remains bread and wine. The Eastern Orthodox churches and some Anglicans have a similar belief. Zwingli denied that the glorified Christ, now in heaven, is present in any way that such words as "bodily," "physically," or "locally" might suggest. Calvin taught that while the bread and wine remained unchanged, the Spirit raises the believer through faith to enjoy the presence of Christ in a way that is glorious and real, though indescribable.
All the Reformers insisted that at the table we give thanks to Christ for a finished and accepted work of atonement. They denounced the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass because in it the sacrifice of the cross was said to be repeated, renewed, or presented again in a way that obscured its sufficiency.
The Lord's Supper has a past reference to Christ's death. It has a present reference to our corporate participation in Him through faith. It has a future reference in that it is a pledge of His return. It encourages the faithful in their daily walk and in their expectation. This service of worship in which Christians remember the suffering that Christ endured for them is a distinctive mark of the Christian religion all over the world.