Saturday, February 28, 2015

WORLD update (February 2015)

Feb. 7
The evidence we want: "Where on earth has the 'beautiful religion' of Islam created anything like an attractive society?"
Where, on this whole globe, is the Islamic society where this "beautiful religion" (to use President Obama's words last week) is practiced in a way that prompts people by the millions to move there and to live for the rest of their lives? . . .
It isn't for lack of time. Islam has had well over a millennium to get its act together. It isn't for lack of money. Islam has had, and still has, access to all kinds of global wealth. It isn't for lack of power. In at least 20 of the world's 190 countries, Islam has been dominant in the political driver's seat. . . .
[W]e are not engaging in harassment when we ask questions like this: If a group of radical Christians had, anywhere in the world, done what a small band of Muslims did in Paris a couple of weeks ago, the rest of us Christians shouldn't have been surprised if we were asked to engage in a straightforward and candid conversation. It's one thing for the leaders—and defenders—of Islam to say that what we've just seen isn't the true fruit of what they teach. It's another thing for them to show us where the true fruit is.
Heaven boy lied: He said, "When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible." His last name is "Malarkey."

A poor weapon: "Islamic terrorists must be stopped, but crude satire isn't the way to do it."
If I were to suggest that most of the residents of an inner city neighborhood were poor, partly at least because they were unmarried high-school dropouts with lots of kids who either got by on welfare or worked only long enough to pay this month's rent, someone within hearing would accuse me of blaming the victim.
If I observed that a victim of rape acted unwisely when she wore short shorts and a halter top to a pool hall frequented by drunken deadbeats after midnight, I would be pounced upon with cries of Blaming the Victim.
And if I offered an opinion that the publishers of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo had crossed the line of decency many times in their satirical cartoons of religious figures, and it may have contributed to their brutal slaying by radical Muslims, what would be the response?
Direct hit: "American Sniper should challenge thinking on both the right and the left."

Feb. 21
The 150-year-old identity: "How one man stopped defining himself by his sexual attractions."

Digital detox: "How much screen time is too much for children?"

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Parson in Mirth

George Herbert was a pastor-poet in the 1600s, and if you want a free resource on Herbert (as well as George Whitefield and C.S. Lewis), go here. In 1652, almost twenty years after Herbert died, his only remaining work of prose was published: The Country Parson (also known as A Priest to the Temple—a fitting title for an Anglican priest who had written a collection of poems called The Temple). Chapter XXVII in The Country Parson is titled "The Parson in Mirth." Here is the entire chapter (try not to laugh at the first six words):
The Countrey Parson is generally sad, because he knows nothing but the Crosse of Christ, his minde being defixed on, and with those nailes wherewith his Master was: or if he have any leisure to look off from thence, he meets continually with two most sad spectacles, Sin, and Misery; God dishonoured every day, and man afflicted. Neverthelesse, he sometimes refresheth himself, as knowing that nature will not bear everlasting droppings, and that pleasantnesse of disposition is a great key to do good; not onely because all men shun the company of perpetuall severity, but also for that when they are in company, instructions seasoned with pleasantness, both enter soon, and roote deeper. Wherefor he condescends to humane frailties both in himselfe and others; and intermingles some mirth in his discourses occasionally, according to the pulse of the hearer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A sense of blunder

From Charles Taylor's mammoth A Secular Age (p. 606, bolding mine):
I mentioned earlier how nineteenth and twentieth century materialism recaptures some of the sense of wonder and depth in contemplating the whole of nature which we could find in the ancient world in the writings of Lucretius. The wonder is not only at the stupendous whole, but at the way in which we emerge, in one way fragile and insignificant, and yet capable of grasping this whole. Pascal's theme of the human being as a thinking reed can be played as well in an atheist and materialist register. One can even say that a kind of piety arises here, in which we recognize that for all our detachment in objectivating thought, we ultimately belong to this whole, and return to it. In the moving obituary for his colleague and mentor, William Hamilton, Richard Dawkings writes of his friend's wish at his death "to be laid out on the forest floor in the Amazon jungle and interred by burying beetles as food for their larvae":
"Later, in their children, reared with care by horned parents out of fist-sized balls moulded from my flesh, I will escape. No worm for me, or sordid fly: rearranged and multiple, I will at last buzz from the soil like bees out of a nest—indeed, buzz louder than bees, almost like a swarm of motor bikes. I shall be borne, beetle by flying beetle, out into the Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars."
One might say, that so articulated, this sense of wonder, and piety of belonging, is not just compatible with a naturalist, immanentist perspective, it supposes it; it is an intrinsic part of such a perspective.
One of the things that I appreciate about Taylor is his honest admission that unbelievers can still have a sense of wonder and fulness, despite their lack of an objective reality on which to base that wonder and fulness. I can admit, too, that there is something touching about Hamilton's fantasy—I mean, he mentions stars so movingly!

However, it also seems appropriate to say at some point, "Uh, that's dumb." Your fate as a cloud of beetles bursting out from the soil of a Brazilian jungle—a kind of Brazilian wax in which part of you violently tears forth from the nether parts? That's what gives you a sense of wonder and piety? Let's be honest about the fact that, sure, unbelievers can appear to enjoy lives with some sort of transcendence in mind. But let's not be afraid to call balderdash when we see it. "I'm a lollipop!" No, you're a loony.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Correlation of details in the Gospels

From The Reformation Study Bible note to John 18:1-40 (p. 1698; bolding mine):
The accounts of the four Gospels cover the major events of the arrest, trial, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. While some difficulties arise in the correlation of details, the main elements are in complete harmony. Jesus was arrested at night. His trial before the Jewish authorities had at least two phases, and during this part of the trial Peter denied Jesus three times. The trial before secular powers had three phases, and Jesus was executed by Pilate's soldiers. He was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, and on the first day of the week He arose from the dead and was seen alive in a variety of appearances to His disciples. None of the difficulties in the correlation of details is insuperable, but in a number of cases more than one explanation is possible, and in the absence of fuller data, it is difficult to choose among them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Definite Redemption

Theological note from John 10:15 (from The Reformation Study Bible, p. 1682*):
Definite redemption, also called "particular redemption," or "limited atonement," is the historic Reformed doctrine about the intention of the triune God in the death of Jesus Christ. Without questioning the infinite worth of Christ's sacrifice or the genuineness of God's sincere invitation to all who hear the gospel (Rev. 22:17), the doctrine states that Christ in dying intended to accomplish what He did accomplish: to take away the sins of God's elect, and to ensure that they would all be brought to faith through regeneration and preserved through faith for glory. Christ did not intend to die in this efficacious sense for everyone. The proof of that, as Scripture and experience unite to teach us, is that not all are saved.
In discussing the atonement, some say that Christ died for all, and that all without exception will be saved. This is an actual universalism. A second doctrine is that Christ died for all, but that His death has no saving effect without an added faith and repentance not foreseen in His death. In other words, He died for the general purpose of making salvation possible, but the salvation of particular individuals was not included in His death. This is a hypothetical universalism. The third doctrine is that although Christ's death was infinite in value, it was offered to save only some, those who were known beforehand. This is the limited or definite atonement.
Scripture does not teach that all will be saved, ruling out actual universalism. The other two views do not differ about how many will be saved, but about the purpose for which Christ died. Scripture addresses this question. The New Testament teaches that God chose for salvation a great number of the fallen race and sent Christ into the world to save them (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; 11:51, 52; Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pet. 1:20). Christ is said to have died for a particular people, with the clear implication that His death secured their salvation (John 10:15-18, 27-29; Rom. 5:8-10; 8:32; Gal. 2:20; 3:13, 14; 4:4, 5; 1 John 4:9, 10; Rev. 1:4-6; 5:9, 10). Before He died, Christ prayed for those the Father had given Him, and not for the world (John 17:9, 20). Jesus' prayer lifted up those for whom He was going to die, and He promised them that He would not fail to save them. Such passages present the idea of a definite atonement. The Old Testament, with its emphasis on the election of grace, provides strong support.
The free offer of the gospel, and the commandment to preach the good news everywhere, is not inconsistent with the teaching that Christ died for His elect people. All who come to Christ will find mercy (John 6:35, 47-51, 54-57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8-13). The gospel offers Christ, who knows His sheep. He died for them; He calls them by name, and they hear Him. This is the gospel that He commanded His disciples to preach in all the world, in order to save sinners.
*I'm using the older edition, the page numbers of which may be different from this new edition.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Kingdom of God

From The Reformation Study Bible, note to Luke 17:20-37 (p. 1638):
Jesus' answer to questions regarding the coming of the kingdom of God points to the dynamic character of that kingdom. In this passage, Jesus presents the kingdom both as present reality (v. 21) and as yet to be fully revealed (vv. 22-37). Jesus often presented the kingdom as a hidden and growing reality (Matt. 13:31-33), which is both present and future. In the earthly ministry of Jesus, the kingdom is already present (11:20), but the full reality of the kingdom is yet to be manifested (cf. 19:11). Christians are to pray for the full realization of God's kingdom (11:2). See theological note "The Kingdom of God."
Here is the theological note "The Kingdom of God":
The theme of the kingdom of God runs through both Testaments, focusing God's purpose for world history. In the Old Testament God declared that He would exercise His kingship (His sovereignty, Dan. 4:34, 35) by ruling over people's lives and circumstances through His chosen King, the Davidic Messiah (Is. 9:6, 7) in a golden age of blessing. This kingdom came with Jesus and is known wherever the lordship of Jesus is acknowledged. Jesus is enthroned in heaven as ruler over all things (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:13), King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). The golden age of blessing is an era of salvation from sin and fellowship with God leading to a future state of complete joy in a reconstructed universe. The kingdom is present in its beginnings but future in its fullness; in one sense here already, but in the richest sense still to come (Luke 11:20; 16:16; 17:21; 22:16, 18, 29, 30).
The kingdom came bringing mercy but also judgment, just as John the Baptist, its forerunner, had said (Matt. 3:1-12). Those who received Jesus' word and put their destiny in His hands found mercy, while those who would not were judged.
The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness. The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The church makes its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life.
The coming of the kingdom meant a new stage in God's redemptive program. All that was typical, temporary, and imperfect in the arrangements God made for Israel's communion with Him became things of the past. God's Israel, the seed of Abraham, was revealed as the company of believers in Jesus (Gal. 3:16, 26-29). The Spirit was poured out, and a new way of life became a reality for this world. A new internationalism of global church fellowship and global evangelism was born (Matt. 28:19, 20; Eph. 2:11-18; 3:6, 14, 15; Col. 1:18, 29; Rev. 5:9, 10; 7:9).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

WORLD update (December 2014)

Dec. 13
Back to the future of bad ideas: "Isaiah Berlin foresaw the danger of believing in an earthly paradise." One useful point is that toleration "as an overarching value has built-in limitations." One reason is that "[i]t doesn't work all the way up. At some point, intolerance must be exercised against those who refuse to tolerate." In addition, "[i]t is unstable in a closed system. With no outside arbiter to determine what may and may not be tolerated, whoever has the power fills that vacuum—and feels justified in breaking eggs to make the perfect omelet."

In layman's terms: "A pastor, lawyer, and author [Randy Singer] says fields of ministry aren't confined to church walls."

Where are they now?: Scroll down to read "[u]pdates from a dozen past Daniels of the Year." Previous winners include Stephen Meyer (2009), Makoto Fujimura (2005), Phillip Johnson (2003), Franklin Graham (2002), John Ashcroft (2001), and Ken Starr (1998; Baylor University president).

Dec. 27
Confirmed: "Scientists have confirmed that genetic material recovered in 2012 belongs to King Richard III, an English monarch who died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The discovery could have profound implications: DNA testing did not fully match the royal line, indicating marital infidelity likely occurred somewhere between the 14th and 15th centuries—which could cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the English throne. Professor Kevin Schurer, who worked on the project, told BBC News, 'We may have solved one historical puzzle, but in so doing, we opened up a whole new one.'"

Myth makers: "Scholars who doubt Jesus' existence follow standard conspiracy theory procedure."

Bitter tweets: "Two faiths collided last month on Twitter. Retired pitcher Curt Schilling, a professed Christian who vowed a decade ago never to hide his beliefs (see 'Never hide,' March 19, 2005), tweeted a series of comments critical of macro-evolution, including, 'Show me the fossils that became human' and 'Where are the fossils?'"

Terror and grace in 1914: "Fancy shaking hands with the enemy."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Shakespeare and religion

In a chapter titled "Monster Ingratitude," Peter Leithart writes in Gratitude: An Intellectual History, "The anxieties of the age were represented dramatically in the plays of William Shakespeare" (114). At that point, Leithart inserts an endnote, which reads as follows (263-64n75, bolding mine):
Recent Shakespeare scholarship has emphasized not only his interest in contemporary Elizabethan politics but also the theological setting in which those political interest[s] have been developed. Debora Shuger writes, "[I]f it is not plausible to read Shakespeare's plays as Christian allegories, neither is it likely that the popular drama of a religiously saturated culture could, by a secular miracle, have extricated itself from the theocentric orientation informing the discourses of politics, gender, social order and history." Quoted in Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare's Tribe: Church, Theatre and Nation in Renaissance England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). In his 2002 Shakespeare's Tribe, Jeffrey Knapp argues that scholars do not go far enough. While they stress "the centrality of religion to the study of Renaissance drama," they accept part of the secular theater thesis they are opposing since they assume that "Renaissance playwrights [are] 'Christian' only cognitively or subliminally, rather than purposively and devotionally." Thus not even recent revisionist scholarship "allows the possibility that Renaissance plays may have been intended and received as contributions to the cause of true religion," nor have scholars considered the possibility that "Shakespeare and his contemporaries were capable of envisaging their profession itself—their acting and playwriting—as a kind of ministry." For his part, Knapp argues that "English theology and ecclesiology shaped the drama at a fundamental level, in helping to determine the conceptualization of the player and the playwright as professions, and of the theater as an institution; these self-images in turn disposed theater people toward the enacting of certain confirmatory plots, themes, and characters on stage; and thus religion had a crucial say in the creation of plays, in their content, and, by extension, in their presumed social effects." In short, "religion had a more direct role in the production of plays than as the deep structure of dramatized ideology; it provided the rationale and even motives for acting and playwrighting." Along similar lines, Julia Reinhard Lupton argues that Shakespeare's dramas "stage the sacramental marriage, civil divorce, and dangerous liaisons between politics and religion in the West, probing the intersection between the founding metaphors of divine sovereignty and modern forms of social organization based on the economic contracts of individuals. Shakespeare's plays, I suggest, are preoccupied by the strange cohabitation of the saint and the citizen" (Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005], 12).
For more quotes from this book, see here and here.

Friday, December 19, 2014


From The Reformation Study Bible (the notes of which are being revised), p. 1580 (connected to Mark 9:43-48):
The New Testament views hell as the final abode of those condemned to eternal punishment at the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:41-46; Rev. 20:11-15). It is described as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7, 13), of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:7; 1 Thess. 5:3) and torment (Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23). These terms are probably symbolic rather than literal, but, if anything, the reality will be more terrible than the symbol. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and fill us with horror, persuading us that though heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can imagine. These are the issues of eternity that must be realistically faced.
Hell is not so much the absence of God, as the consequences of His wrath and displeasure. God is like a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), and His righteous condemnation for defying Him and clinging to the sins He loathes will be experienced in hell (Rom. 2:6, 8, 9, 12). According to Scripture, hell is unending (Jude 13; Rev. 20:10). There is no biblical warrant for speculations about a "second chance" after death, or an annihilation of the ungodly at some stage.
Those in hell will realize that they have sentenced themselves to be there because they have loved darkness rather than light, refusing to have their Creator as their Lord. They preferred the self-indulgence of sin to self-denying righteousness, rejecting the God that made them (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18, 24, 26, 28, 32; 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:9-11). General revelation confronts everyone with a certain evidence of God, and from this standpoint hell has a basis in God's respect for human choice. All receive what they chose, either to be with God forever, or to be without Him. Those who are in hell will know, not only that for their doings they deserve their punishment, but that in their hearts they chose it.
The purpose of the Bible's teaching about hell is to make us turn with gratitude to the grace of Christ that saves us from it (Matt. 5:29, 30; 13:48-50). For this reason God's warning to us is merciful; He has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezek. 33:11).