Thursday, August 27, 2015

Irony and cloaked language

From John R. Betz's introduction to Erich Przywara's Analogia Entis (p. 51n139, bolding added):
[W]ith theopanism the world is not a genuine other of the divine but in reality nothing but an emanation of the divine (a genitivus subjectivus!) or a moment in the self-development or self-interpretation of the divine—as in the case, mutatis mutandis, with Neo-Platonism, Hegelianism, and, in Przywara's view, the dialectical theology of the 1920s, inasmuch as the posited dialectic between God and world (faith and reason, grace and nature) ultimately and ironically collapses into the Lutheran-Reformed doctrine of God's exclusive agency or sole-causality (Alleinwirksamkeit). In short, as Przywara sees it, it is a radical theology of difference that ends in a fateful theology of identity. Over against the Lutheran-Reformed doctrine of Allwirksamkeit, i.e., the doctrine that God nevertheless—in and through the reality of created freedom—works all in all. To be sure, theopanism is often cloaked in a language of hyper-transcendence, as a part of a pious and well-intentioned attempt precisely not to confuse God with the world, but rather to give God the glory. At the end of the day, however, as Przywara sees it, Barth's dialectic (lacking an analogy of being) ironically collapses into an unwitting form of identity—the very thing he wishes to avoid—in that faith is a work of God alone and the believing creature is simply a site of divine self-interpretation.
It's nice that Betz, speaking for Przywara, includes all this stuff about irony and cloaked language, because we should talk about these things.

In what was probably a simple editor's oversight, Betz/Przywara failed to mention the irony inherent in a theology that minimizes the fall and the destructive nature of sin, exalts human ability so that special revelation describing the utter worthlessness of pre-justification righteous acts (Is. 64:6) and the state of moral inability that we are all in (Eph. 2:1-10) is dismissed, and refuses to inquire what the difference is between those who believe and those who do not (i.e., why, if the Creator is in-and-beyond creation, some creatures accept Christ as their savior and some creatures do not) . . . and yet wants to avoid charges of Pelagianism (pp. 72-72).

What's that? You say that you've heard that all our righteousness is as filthy rags and that we are dead in trespasses and sins? You've heard that no one is born again by his own will (John 1:12-13)? You've heard that no one comes to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44)? Balderdash! You're plenty capable, so give it your best shot!

To be sure, anti-Reformation theology is often cloaked in a language of hyper-immanence (God "in" creation [p. 72]), as part of a pious and well-intentioned attempt precisely not to confuse God with the world, but rather to account for the legitimacy of (fallen) human responsibility. At the end of the day, however, anti-Reformation theology ironically collapses into an unwitting form of identity—the very thing it wishes to avoid—in that God essentially becomes subject to creation as His hands are tied by human decision and as justification becomes a team effort.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

System-less systems

From John R. Betz's introduction to Erich Przywara's Analogia Entis (p. 50):
[Przywara] notes profound differences between modernity and the carefully balanced theologies of the Middle Ages. To put it simply, whereas the great scholastics, such as Bonaventure, Thomas, and Scotus, notwithstanding their differences, appreciated the fundamental tensions between intellect and will, divine and human freedom, the omni-causality of God and the secondary causality of creatures, in modernity, according to Przywara, in the wake of the Reformation, these tensions give way to two destructive dialectics: on the one hand, a dialectic between rationalism and voluntarism; on the other hand, and more fundamentally, a dialectic between what he calls pantheism and theopanism.
To put it simply, those silly Protestants don't know how to appreciate mystery. Everything reduces to a dialectical contest between who's right and who's wrong (e.g., debates about Calvinism and Arminianism). Medieval Catholicism was idyllic and "carefully balanced" [cough], but then that blasted Reformation happened, and ever since then, those Protestants (who were probably protesting for no good reason) have been unwilling to admit that there are mysteries or tensions in anything. There are probably no Protestants anywhere who acknowledge tensions between intellect and will, divine and human freedom, or the omni-causality of God and the secondary causality of creatures. No Protestants are balanced, and that is a perfectly balanced thing to say. Everything is crammed into a system, and that's bad because—based on my systematic analysis of experience and all of the available data—I know that systems are bad. Systems lead to dialectical theology. Catholics are superior to Protestants because they (Catholics) don't divide concepts or people in to two groups and pit them against each other. Catholics don't do that kind of thing, but Protestants do. Przywara is superior to Barth, and that's not dialectical or destructive or tension-lacking at all.

Sarcasm aside (but irony still present), this all reminds me of the "no creed but Christ" folks, who share their creed every time they say that. It also reminds me of groups of people who are against tribalism, so they get into a group (let's call it a "tribe") to talk about the negative aspects of tribalism and those people who think that their way is better. Or a conversation I overheard: one person was complaining about how people are so frequently labeled, and this person went on to rail against the labeling of people. I immediately thought of a perfect label that would look great on this person: "label hater." Labels are not bad. Creeds are not bad. Systems are not bad. (Betz does not want Przywara's analogia entis to be turned into a system—see p. 83.) Although all of these things can be bad. However, abusus non tollit usum: the abuse of something does not take away the right use of it.

So far, the lack of self-awareness (or at least the hyper-narrow focus on a group of Protestants whose theology doesn't speak for me) in Analogia Entis is staggering.

Monday, August 24, 2015

ENG 2301 Introduction

Books as weapons
Your Norton Anthology bears the name of a man, William Warder Norton (1891-1945), who believed that "[b]ooks are the weapons in the battle of ideas."

The metaphor that books are weapons is not a new one. The author of Hebrews writes that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Paul writes that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).

It is true that books are not only weapons, or at least weapons that harm. The word of God, a book*, tells us the good news about how we can be born again—how we can become the kind of people who never die (1 Peter 1:23-25). And weapons are not only destructive. Anne Lamott has observed that "you don't always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too." And C.S. Lewis has said that "a weapon is essentially a thing we lay aside as soon as we safely can." Nevertheless, we can accept both aspects of the word of God—it is like a gardening tool that helps us flourish, and it also divides and conquers like a sword. One day we'll "hang the trumpet in the hall and study war no more," but until then, we build and fight.

Books are not the only weapons that have a dual purpose of hurting and healing. Prayer "is listed as a weapon in the spiritual warfare against the forces of darkness" (Keller, Prayer 223), and prayer can be, among other things, imprecatory or supplicatory. (In fact, a prayer room can be a war room.) Towards the end of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, he writes that pity-as-passion is a weapon to blackmail people into feeling sorry for you, but pity-as-action is a weapon that does battle with suffering and misery, darkness and evil. So passions, actions, books, etc. can all be weapons for good or for evil, and it is important to acknowledge this dual nature of books. This dual nature is powerful.

Of course, power corrupts (or at least, it can be corrupting), and some people have wanted to use books to control others for their own selfish purposes. Recall this scene from the movie The Book of Eli (2010):

The antagonist Carnegie (Gary Oldman) suspects that the book carried by Eli (Denzel Washington) is the Bible. Carnegie knows the power that the Bible had back in the days before the nuclear apocalypse, and he wants this book so that he can obtain power to control others. Carnegie says in the clip above, it's "a weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them!" (Carnegie seems to think that people cling to the Bible out of psychological reasons, such as fear and mental weakness. However, as this book explains, there are many psychological reasons for rejecting the Bible, such as "fear of authority, fear of exposure, and fear of God's 'otherness.'")

  • In your experience, how has a book/story been used as a weapon in a harmful way?
  • How has a book/story been used in a healing way?

Stories and storytelling
Of course, it's not just any book that Carnegie wants. It's not a chemistry textbook, or manual about library science. It's a book of many things, but in part it's a book of stories. Stories have the power to capture our imaginations, and if our imaginations get captured, it's very likely that the rest of us will eventually go with it. After all, affection drives cognition—what we love determines what we think. Our imaginations are powerful. This is why Paul, after describing spiritual weapons, urges us to cast down imaginations that set themselves up against the knowledge of God, and to capture every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5, KJV). This is why Augustine insisted that we take great care to rightly order our desires. This is why even earlier than Paul or Augustine, Plato concluded his Republic with a "warning" (perhaps ironic) about the power that poetry has over our imaginations and desires. Poets are (ironically?) banished from the kallipolis because of poetry's ability to powerfully shape desires, ethics, intellects, etc.

Speaking of desires, in Jamie Smith's books Desiring the Kingdom and How (Not) to Be Secular, he writes about the need for imaginative apologetics. This is not to say that apologetics focused on rational arguments and phenomenological details are never helpful—they are, and they are especially helpful in strengthening the reasonable faith of those who have already accepted Christ as their Savior from sin and death. But the point is that unbelievers are seldom reasoned into the kingdom. People respond to the gospel because their imaginations have been kindled. They have been captivated by a story.

In Homer's Odyssey, when Odysseus schemed to evade the Sirens, whose beautiful song enchanted and ultimately destroyed sailors, he had his crew put wax in their ears and ordered them to tie him to the mast. The Sirens' song drove him mad momentarily, but his crew kept their course, and they made it through. However, manhandling people into a decision is not always effective, and sometimes the brash confrontational nature of certain kinds of apologetics can push people away more than it draws them near. We can learn a lesson from the bard Orpheus, who, upon finding himself similarly confronted by Sirens, simply sang a better song.

To translate this to a literature class, and even to our personal lives, it is important what stories we tell and what stories we listen to, whether these stories are in the forms of books, music, movies, etc. This is because we ourselves can be taken captive by bad stories, and we have a responsibility to resist that (Col. 2:8). As Baylor professor Phillip Donnelly has put it, "The stories we tell and the stories we listen to reveal the kind of stories that we inhabit." The epigraph on our syllabus comes from a poem by George Herbert. Herbert writes that "verse," or poetry (the word that people used to describe all imaginative literature), has the power to use pleasure and delight as bait. A dry sermon may bore us, but if the preacher begins to tell a story, we become interested, and we are suddenly eager to listen. We drop our guard. We open ourselves to learning, because it's enjoyable.

C.S. Lewis wrote a letter describing his intention of smuggling theology through children's fiction. But it is not just children who need to be rescued from their own boredom. (Lewis admits that the idea for The Screwtape Letters came to him while he was bored in church one morning.) In an essay, he writes honestly about his aversion to sermons and duties and requirements, such as being told to reverence God. Lewis realized that it's not the message itself that is boring, because the story of the gospel is the greatest story ever told—a god-man coming to earth to save his people from a baleful dragon, or to put it another way, a playwright entering his own drama to save the very people who had rejected their author. The problem wasn't the message, but the medium—the way in which the story was being told. (Most if not all times, the medium trumps, or is, the message.) Yes, God should be reverenced, but there is also joy and wonder in the story of the gospel. And when we step away from the solemn stained glass and the dusty memories of Sunday school—what Lewis calls "watchful dragons" that obstruct our experiencing the energy of The Story—and put the gospel in a new light, it could regain its potency.

Watch as Baylor professor Sarah-Jane Murray talks (and tells stories) about being hardwired for story, the power of neural coupling (which aids memory), and the responsibility of storytellers to inspire greatness:

  • Have you ever experienced the disarming nature of a story? In a book? In a song? In a movie? In a sermon?
  • Have you ever found yourself to have grown more sympathetic because of the medium of story, when you had previously be resistant to reasons?
  • Have you ever heard advice that traditionally came from your parents or pastor, but this time the advice came from a different person—and because the message came from someone whose opinion you were eager to hear (e.g., a celebrity, or someone that you respected in a different way than the traditional authority figures if your life), and was packaged in a new way, you were more willing to listen? What made the difference in that kind of situation?
  • Have you ever heard a Bible story that was told in an original a fresh way that opened the passage up for you in new ways?

*It is possible that "word of God" occurrences in the Bible (e.g., Heb. 4:12) may be talking about Jesus, but Hebrews 3:7-4:13 has been talking about a rest for the people of God, and Heb. 4:14 introduces a shift from the language of "God" to the language of "Jesus" as the Great High Priest. This does not mean that Jesus is not God (He is called the Son of God in Heb. 4:14), but it does show that the emphasis in Heb. 4:12 is not specifically on Jesus. Similar language appears in 1 Peter 1:23 ("word of God") and 1:25 ("word of the Lord"), and the end of v. 25 tells us that "this word" is not Jesus Himself, but "the good news"—in other words, the gospel (literally, "good words"). In addition, cross-references point us to Matthew 24:35, which gives us Jesus' statement that "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (emphasis added). We can distinguish between Jesus Himself and His words, but they are both authoritative. And His words have been recorded for us in an authoritative book.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Short videos about the greatest Story

Every story casts His shadow: Sixty-six books, dozens of authors, a holy canon thousands of years in the making.

The Big Story: The Bible is an amazing book—one big story where everything points to Jesus.

The Biggest Story (not to be outdone by "The Big Story," I guess): How the snake crusher brings us back to the garden.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every story whispers his name.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Talking past Protestants?

In the lengthy introduction to Erich Przywara's newly translated Analogia Entis, translator John Betz explains Przywara's Catholic disagreements with Karl Barth's "dialectical theology."

Przywara affirms the following:
  • the fact that God's sovereignty permits secondary causes (18).
  • "the mysterious tension of 'similar-dissimilar'" (18).
  • "the 'both-and' . . . of divine immanence and divine transcendence" (18).
  • "an ultimately inscrutable but real analogical relation between the saving God who works 'all in all' and the real secondary causes of creation" (19). (Pryzwara goes on to say that secondary causes "are vitiated by the Fall but [the] integrity (and ability to correspond to grace) is never fully destroyed" [19]. I would not affirm this.)
  • "the similarity-in-difference between God and creature (a similarity that the sinfulness of human beings cannot altogether destroy)" (20).
  • "the relative dignity of secondary causes" (20).
Przywara denies the following:
  • the idea that "[t]he only relation between God and creature is . . . that of the absolute 'No.' . . . [T]he 'analogy' between God and creature is replaced with a pure 'negation'" (18).
  • the Protestant view that with God "the 'similar' is completely abolished" (18). (Przywara uses Rudolf Otto to represent all Protestant theology, possibly trying to connect all Protestant theology to Kant's noumenal-phenomenal dualism.)
  • the denial of "God's analogical immanence to creation" and the failure "to register the 'both-and,' which Catholicism affirms, of divine immanence and divine transcendence" (18).
  • the "override[ing of] human nature and reason, making them strictly passive with regard to the divine" (18).
  • the "den[ial of] any natural knowledge of God, rendering null and void the revelation of creation" (18-19).
  • any theology (e.g. dialectical theology) that "unwittingly falls victim to a form of 'theopanism' (inasmuch as salvation is the work of God alone, who works the salvation of human nature essentially without human nature and human cooperation)" (19).
  • the "rul[ing] out [of] any notion of divine immanence" (19).
  • any theology that "rules out any notion of divine immanence" (19).
  • the idea that sin "can only be explained as a privation of a created good, a misuse of created freedom; it can wear down and terribly disfigure but not entirely efface the image that God created" (19n59).
  • the "collaps[ing of] the . . . difference between God and creature" (20).
  • the idea that, "to the extent that the creature is reduced to nothing—having lost even the capacity to respond to grace—God becomes everything" (20). (A little histrionic, if you ask me. The fact that Paul describes our moral condition as state of deadness [Ephesians 2] does not mean that Protestants who believe Paul are basically pantheists.)
  • the "devaluing of creation as creation, i.e., as a genuine other of the divine life that nevertheless participates in it analogically" (20).
The problem is, I can affirm and deny (almost) everything that Przywara affirms and denies here, so I'm not sure whom Przywara is addressing besides the early version of Barth. (Even the translator concedes that Przywara's criticism "would require significant qualifications in light of Barth's mature theology" [19].) Perhaps Przywara was too caught up with German Lutheranism to really be addressing Protestants broadly (many of whom are English, and more heirs of Calvin than Luther). The result is that I hear Przywara critiquing "Protestantism," but based on the details of his critique, I don't hear him talking to me.

Here's a post on overstated Catholic criticism.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Universal atonement and contingency

A just God cannot and will not punish the same sin twice. If Jesus "paid it all," and if He paid it all for all (universal atonement), then there should be no one in Hell, because God cannot demand a payment for sin that Jesus already paid. (I'm obviously assuming the legitimacy of penal substitution as at least one way of thinking about the atonement.)

One response might be that Jesus' payment was contingent upon human acceptance, but the thing about contingency is that contingency itself is contingent upon certain contingencies. For example, someone might offer to pay a fine to a judge to have someone released from prison. The judge might base the validity of that payment on the prisoner's acceptance of that payment, and if the prisoner declines the offer, then the judge cannot accept the payment. It was a contingent payment, and only an unjust judge would accept the payment and keep the prisoner imprisoned. If the prisoner declines the offer, then the payment was never really made. It was only offered.

Funny thing about contingent payments—they don't extent to death payments. No one can die (hoping to take the place of another person), claiming beforehand that if the person doesn't accept the death as a payment, well then he didn't really die for him.

And Jesus didn't do that either. His resurrection wasn't a way of saying, "My death doesn't really count for those of you who never accept me as Savior." He didn't say, "It is finished," and then die to make salvation contingent upon acceptance (as romantic as "even if no one accepts the offer" might sound). Contingent payments aren't "finished." Sin was not imputed to Jesus contingently. Jesus didn't satisfy God's wrath contingently. And as I said at the beginning, any judge (or God) who accepts a double payment—payment from a benefactor on behalf of a perpetrator (Jesus' death on the cross), and payment from the perpetrator (eternal death in Hell)—is an unjust judge.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is predestination a prideful doctrine?

It is sometimes claimed that one cannot hold the doctrine of predestination without an immense measure of pride. This claim must be narrowed, because the language of predestination is clearly biblical (that is, the word is right there on the page, in several places), and so despite how one interprets predestination, no one can just dismiss it. Therefore, Christians who deny "predestination" are probably denying the doctrine of "double predestination," a doctrine that is not specifically mentioned by name in the Bible (like "Trinity" or "hypostatic union").

The argument is that, since Christians who believe in double predestination presume to know that they are chosen and others are not, Christians who believe this must think very highly of themselves as the chosen ones, looking down on those who are not worthy to be chosen. The idea is that belief in double predestination necessarily includes some measure of pride in having been chosen. Even if people who believe in double predestination don't seem very prideful, the possibility for pride is inherent within the doctrine.

However, such a claim ignores the very basis of double predestination. The doctrine of predestination makes the claim that predestination is necessary because, without God's sovereign work, we can do nothing to gain our salvation, including being worthy or even wanting to be saved. Those who believe in double predestination do not think that God's choice was based on human merit, but rather His own sovereign will. No one knows why God has chosen what and whom He has chosen, but we do know one option that is not a possibility: we have earned His favor on our own. We are saved because God saved us. We are not saved because some of us are really smart and know a good deal when we see one: "'His robes for mine'? Sign me up!" We contributed just as much to our spiritual birth as we did to our physical birth, and therefore there is no room for pride or boasting.

In fact, one reason that Calvinists resist Arminian soteriology is this very issue of pride. As much as Arminians will strongly deny that God's grace is earned in any way, there seems to be no way of escaping the fact that if salvation is determined, not by God's choice, but by human choice, then the difference between those who are saved and those who are not saved is a qualitative difference. Ask an Arminian (not a universalist) why some are saved and some are not. What is the final determining factor in someone's salvation? The answer cannot simply be that God, for His own unknown reasons, saved some and not others. That's Calvinistic. If Jesus came to provide a possibility, and He opened the door to salvation, why do some walk through the door and others do not? The answer must be, whether Arminians will admit this or not, that there is a qualitative difference in the people themselves. Some people just make better choices. Some people are just more virtuous and are able to see the good and choose it. Some people are just smarter, or less rebellious, or more submissive to God's will, or they just have something in them that helps them make the right choice.

For Arminians, that something cannot be the fact that God's grace allows them to make the right choice, because, according to Arminianism, God's pleading grace goes out to all, and the question is simply pushed back a little further: Why do people respond to God's grace differently? If all people have the same amount of grace that enables them to accept God's offer, what is the difference between those who accept and those who reject the offer? Again, what is it in the person who accepts God's offer that makes him or her different from the person who rejects God's offer? Why do some respond rightly to God's grace, and others do not?

Some might say that, yes, my choice is a necessary cause of my salvation, but my choice is not the sufficient cause of my salvation—the sufficient cause is God's grace, so I get no credit. But if God's grace raises everyone up to the same level of capability and provides them with the same opportunity and ability to choose, why do some accept and others reject? What's the difference at that isolated moment? What's the sufficient cause then? In Arminianism, the difference must lie in each individual.

Or, in another way of explaining it, God's special grace goes out only to those whom God already knows will accept His offer. But still the question remains: What does God see in them that makes Him know whom to give His special grace to? If God knows which people will accept Him, what is it about them that makes them those kinds of people who will make the right choice if given God's special grace? He knows that eventually they will choose Him, but why will they do so, and why would others have rejected God's grace if He offered it to them?

This post obviously does not deal with issues of justice or free will or universalism or people on an island who have never heard, much less with any Scriptural support for either position. (I haven't dealt with circumstantial evidence either. But I've heard sensational stories, told by those who loathe the doctrine of double predestination, about people—lots and lots, of course—who suffered from a despair brought about by wondering if they were reprobate. What these stories leave out is the very real despair and severe anxiety that can come from wondering if one has worked up enough faith to "really mean it," or being terrified that one could lose his or her salvation because of the slightest misstep, since Arminian salvation ultimately depends on the human ability to perform.)

The focus here is on pride. And saying, "The cause—the final determining factor, the decisive cause—of my salvation is God's grace alone and not my ability to make a good choice" is not prideful. In fact, it is less prideful than saying, "The cause—the final determining factor, the decisive cause—of my salvation is my right choice. The cause of people's remaining unsaved is their bad choices." A Calvinist could be prideful in his or her election, but that is not because the doctrine itself is conducive to prideful feelings. If there is any room for pride or boasting, it is clearly in a soteriology that emphasizes the inherent human ability to make good decisions. In the Arminian system, the people in Heaven got there because they were better.

To be clear, my point here is not to say that Arminians are prideful people and Calvinists are not. This post is written in response to the charge that double predestination is inherently prideful, and my response is that if you really want to talk about a basis for pride, such a basis is far more likely to be found within a system that emphasizes human ability.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

C.S. Lewis on moving from atheism to theism

From one of Lewis's letters to his friend Arthur Greeves (Oct. 18, 1931):
[W]hat has been holding me back (at any rate for the last year or so) has not been so much a difficulty in believing as a difficulty in knowing what the doctrine meant: you can't believe a thing while you're ignorant what that thing is. My puzzle was the whole doctrine of Redemption: in what sense the life and death of Christ "saved" or "opened salvation to" the world. I could see how miraculous salvation might be necessary: one could see from ordinary experience how sin (e.g. the case of a drunkard) could get a man to such a point that he was bound to reach Hell (i.e. complete degradation and misery) in this life unless something quite beyond mere natural help or effort stepped in. And I could well imagine a whole world being in the same state and similarly in need of a miracle. What I couldn't see was how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) two thousand years ago could help us here and now—except in so far as his example helped us. And the example business, [though] true and important, is not Christianity: right in the centre of Christianity, in the Gospels and St Paul, you keep on getting something quite different and very mysterious expressed in those phrases I have so often ridiculed ("propitiation"—"sacrifice"—"the blood of the Lamb")—expressions [which] I [could] only interpret in senses that seemed to me either silly or shocking.
Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself (cf. the quotation opposite the title page of Dymer) I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it in anywhere except the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even [though] I could not say in cold prose 'what it meant'.
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's myth where the others are men's myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He founded there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call 'real things'. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a 'description' of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The 'doctrines' we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that wh. God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach the other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened.

Tolkien's letter about eucatastrophe

From a 1944 letter that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher (pp. 100-01 in Letters):
[In] that fairy-story essay . . . I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn [a "sudden unhoped-for happy ending"] in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives—if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (for which see the essay)—that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story—and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. Of course I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story. But since the author if [sic] it is the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one was also made to Be, to be true on the Primary Plane. So that in the Primary Miracle (the Resurrection) and the lesser Christian miracles too though less, you have not only that sudden glimpse of the truth behind the apparent Anank√™ [necessity, constraint] of our world, but a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us. . . . [O]ne day, not so long ago, . . . I had one of those sudden clarities which sometimes comes in dreams . . . . I remember saying aloud with absolute conviction: 'But of course! Of course that's how things really do work.' But I could not reproduce any argument that had led to this, though the sensation was the same as having been convinced by reason (if without reasoning). And I have since thought that one of the reasons why one can't recapture the wonderful argument or secret when one wakes up is simply because there was not one: but there was (often maybe) a direct appreciation by the mind (sc. reason) but without the chain of argument we know in our time-serial life. However that's as may be. To descend to lesser things: I knew I had written a story of worth in 'The Hobbit' when reading it (after it was old enough to be detached from me) I had suddenly in a fairly strong measure the 'eucatastrophic' emotion at Bilbo's exclamation: 'The Eagles! The Eagles are coming!' . . . And in the last chapter of The Ring that I have yet written [the last chapter of The Two Towers] I hope you'll note . . . that Frodo's face goes livid and convinces Sam that he's dead, just when Sam gives up hope.

Monday, August 10, 2015

WORLD update (July 2015)

July 11
Our exile in Babylon: "It's time to seek the welfare of the city where God placed us." "Jeremiah had it on good authority that destruction and exile were God’s will until judgment ran its course." Here's more:
Pollyanna-types say, Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. God says, This is my world, and I’m in control. Seek the welfare of the city where I placed you.
This doesn't have to look "religious." Volunteer at the library (or local historic site, or museum). Organize a neighborhood block party or start a community garden. Get to know your children's teachers. Say hello to strangers and offer help where you can. The actions of a Christian and of a secular, public-spirited citizen may look the same, but in long-term effect, and the motivation to keep going in spite of insult and opposition, Christians hold the advantage. When we feel most like scurrying for cover is probably the very time we should be out and about, for "the love of Christ controls us," and the city's welfare is in our hands.
Gays and God: "Good books on homosexuality show the flaws in one sadly influential book." Olasky writes, "I appreciate the honesty of Emory University professor Luke Timothy Johnson, who teaches courses on the New Testament and acknowledges that he and liberal seminary colleagues 'do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. … We are fully aware of the weight of scriptural evidence pointing away from our position, yet place our trust in the power of the living God to reveal as powerfully through personal experience and testimony as through written texts.'" This honesty is similar to atheists who acknowledge that belief in God would require them to live differently, and they'd prefer not to change.

Be on guard: "Watching for signs that a church may be about to cave to gay pressures."

Speech, speech: "Speaking boldly the truth is more needed than ever, with humor where possible."

"No room for hate": "After a shocking killing spree, Charleston, S.C., becomes a haven of Christian forgiveness."

Trust and obey: "The bold, restful life of Elisabeth Elliot, 1926-2015."

Papal green: "In a much-anticipated encyclical entitled 'Laudato Si,' Pope Francis appealed to biblical ideas of stewardship to denounce pollution, lament loss of biodiversity, and call for action to mitigate the effects of climate change: 'The church must introduce in its teaching the sin against the environment. The ecological sin.' The pronouncement met with mixed reactions: Roman Catholic presidential candidate Marco Rubio said that while Americans have 'an obligation to be good caretakers of the planet,' they should remember that fossil fuels have been central to economic growth: 'There are people all over this planet and in this country who have emerged from poverty in large respect because of the availability of affordable energy.'" See more here.

July 25
Developing the Daniel Option: "This is no time to give up on politics." In response to Rod Dreher's "Benedict Option"—it's not "a bad idea, but those who take it in separatist directions are premature."

Past and present: "Learning from history requires deep humility and attention to our biases." "As societies change, history resembles a moving target, and every generation aims at it from a different angle. Conservatives point to the heroic to show our ancestors were wise and virtuous. Progressives latch on to the lurid and bizarre to prove our ancestors were bigoted nuts. All of us are grave robbers, seizing from the dead what our own cause demands."

The man from Merrywood: "An insider's view on politics and religion in Washington circles." Marvin Olasky interviews John Dickerson.

Not for dabblers: "A national bee preserves the dying art of Bible memorization." The grand prize is worth $100,000.

New Dr. Seuss book: "A previously lost Dr. Seuss manuscript entitled What Pet Should I Get? will be published [on July 28], nearly 24 years after Theodor Seuss Geisel’s death in 1991. According to his widow, the book was probably written and partially illustrated sometime between 1958 and 1962, but never published. The manuscript was rediscovered—along with another lost story—in 2013."

Pedro Strop: "'I always thank God for everything.'—Chicago Cubs pitcher Pedro Strop, after Bob Costas made fun of him on a June 26 MLB Network telecast for pointing to the sky after a bad outing on the mound. Strop explained that he thanks God for the opportunity and it has nothing to do with how well he performs. Costas later apologized."

Ad: Os Guiness's Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.

And a comic: