Showing posts from August, 2012

Party of Strivers by DAVID BROOKS
Published: August 30, 2012

America was built by materialistic and sometimes superficial strivers. It was built by pioneers who voluntarily subjected themselves to stone-age conditions on the frontier fired by dreams of riches. It was built by immigrants who crammed themselves into hellish tenements because they thought it would lead, for their children, to big houses, big cars and big lives.

America has always been defined by this ferocious commercial energy, this zealotry for self-transformation, which leads its citizens to vacation less, work longer, consume more and invent more.

Many Americans, and many foreign observers, are ambivalent about or offended by this driving material ambition. Read “The Great Gatsby.” Read D.H. Lawrence on Benjamin Franklin.

But today’s Republican Party unabashedly celebrates this ambition and definition of success. Speaker after speaker at the convention in Tampa, Fla., celebrated t…

Nicholas Lash on "Spiritual but not Religious"

‘When people say (as they do, it seems, with increasing frequency) that they are more interested in “spirituality” than in “religion”, they usually seem to mean that they prefer the balm of private fantasy, the aromatherapy of uplifting individual sentiment, to the hard work of thought and action, the common struggle to make sense of things, to redeem and heal the world. When church leaders are exhorted to concentrate on “spiritual” affairs, the implication sometimes seems to be that these things are different from, and loftier than, such mundane matters as proclaiming good news to the poor and setting at liberty those who are oppressed’. – Nicholas Lash, Holiness, Speech and Silence: Reflections on the Question of God (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 92–3.

On Getting (Part of) the Story Straight

The challenge of becoming Christian can be described in these three interrelated +mandates:

-get the Story straight
-get the Story in
-get the Story out

In today’s world “getting the Story straight” has been significantly devalued (Diana Butler Bass’s narrative in Christianity After Religion is one exemplification of this trend). Yet, in truth, it remains as important as ever. How we construe the biblical Story funds the way we internalize and seek to share our faith with those around us.

The part of that Story I want to focus on today is a part the Apostle Paul also struggled to help his people get straight (not to mention Jesus!): the love of God, specifically the reality and impact of the love of God in our lives.

1. The love of God has triumphed over sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Karl Barth puts it memorably:

“The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave a…

On violence and children's stories
by Ben Myers

My children love adventure stories, and in their games together they often recreate scenes from their favourite stories. In the comfort of the living room, in the darkness of the bedroom, or in the eerie twilight of the backyard, they have been Peter Pan and a lawless crew of pirates, Bilbo Baggins and a ferocious dragon, Aslan and the white witch, a scarecrow and a tin man and a cowardly lion; they have slain giants and battled dwarves and roamed beneath the earth and peered down on tiny cities from a soaring carpet.

There are people – mostly people with PhDs who have never met a real child – who say the old fairytales and adventures are too violent. For my part, I tend to avoid contemporary children’s writing because it is, for the most part, not violent enough. Only an expert could think that what children really need is stories about tolerance, multiculturalism, sensitivity to difference, an…

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary - 22nd Ordinary (Day 3)

James 1:17-27

17 Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. 18 He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.
19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. 20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.
22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, t…

The church is our best hope against the zombies
Rachel Mann, Tuesday 28 August 2012 05.16 EDT

Zombies unlike vampires, or even werewolves, have no glamour. Since George Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, zombies in popular culture have been understood as the dead returned to life with an insatiable desire for human flesh. They are slow-moving, ugly, relentless and mindless. I have always been especially scared by them because, more than other monster, they represent our most unthinking and relentlessly hungry selves. They are interested in one thing only: consumption. And they can never be filled.

George Romero's later film Dawn of the Dead is set primarily in a shopping mall. Many of the zombies continue to push shopping carts around the mall and act as if they are still alive. Their prime remaining instinct is to shop. Though made in 1978, its vision of basic human instinct as "shop…

Have We Become So Sophisticated and Suspicious that We Can No Longer Read the Bible Like This?

This is an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicher:

“First of all I will confess quite simply — I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the word…

"Remember the Titans" and the Marks of the Church

Over at “Jesus Creed” today Scot McKnight revisits the perennial question of the “marks of the church.” Probably the most widely used set of such “marks” is that found in the Nicene Creed: “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity – these characteristics make a church “church.”

While the church is these things in Christ, it has a long way to go to realize them in practice. Therefore, we confess them in hope, trusting that by God’s mercy and grace, we will be what we already are as Christ’s church.

We cannot, therefore, but treat these marks as works in progress in the church. But what might this 4th century language – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic – signify for us today? I think we get a big assist in discerning this significance from the wonderful movie "Remember the Titans." A northern Virginia high school football power is entering its first year of desegregation. It hires a black head coach to replace its popular head c…

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 21st Ordinary (Day 2)

Psalm 84

84 How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD of heavenly forces!
2 My very being longs, even yearns,
for the LORD’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
will rejoice out loud to the living God!
3 Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
the swallow has found herself a nest
where she can lay her young beside your altars,
LORD of heavenly forces, my king, my God!
4 Those who live in your house are truly happy;
they praise you constantly. Selah
5 Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
pilgrimage is in their hearts.
6 As they pass through the Baca Valley,
they make it a spring of water.
Yes, the early rain covers it with blessings.
7 They go from strength to strength,
until they see the supreme God in Zion.
8 LORD God of heavenly forces,
hear my prayer;
listen closely, Jacob’s God! Selah
9 Look at our shield, God;
pay close attention to the face of your anointed one!
10 Better is a single day in your courtyards

Wise Words from Lee Camp on Christians and Politics


I had lunch this past week with one of the elders of my church; it was a great conversation, very enjoyable and lively. He had been a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War, based upon a selective Just War position, and so we shared some of our experience and convictions with one another.

Along the way he mentioned to me that his wife had had a meal recently with the mother of one of my university students. The mother said she was very upset with me: that I had turned her daughter into a pacifist, socialist, and a communist.

I laughed and told him that I hoped that I had in fact made the student into a pacifist, but not a socialist or a communist. I further conjectured that perhaps the student was not really a communist. Perhaps the mother had wrongly concluded that her daughter was now a communist due to the sharp partisanship that characterizes American culture these days: everything …

“Historians Have to Make Things Up” says Thucydides.

August 26, 2012 By peteenns (

Over at Mere Student, John Oliff posted on the Greek historian Thucydides’s (c.460-c.395 BC) take on the nature of historiography.

Sounds like a real snoozer, but grab a cup of coffee if you have to and read this quote from The History of the Peloponnesian War .

In this history I have made use of set speeches some of which were delivered just before and others during the war. I have found it difficult to remember the precise words used in the speeches which I listened to myself and my various informants have experienced the same difficulty; so my method has been, while keeping as closely as possible to the general sense of the words that were actually used, to make the speakers say what, in my opinion, was called for by each situation.
Translation: When recording speeches, Thucydides made things up that he felt fit the overall picture.

Remember, Thucydides is…

What’s Forgiveness Got to Do With It?

A middle-aged pastor was tormented by the memories of a heinous sin she had committed many years before. Finally in desperation she sought out a spiritual director. She told him how her memories and dreams had been poisoned by this particular event. After a few moments of silence, the spiritual director told this woman that she often met and talked with Jesus in her dreams.

“Would you like for me to ask him anything next time we meet?”

“Ask him about my sin, please, please!” the woman replied.

Several weeks later the spiritual director called this pastor and made an appointment to see her. “I met Jesus in my dreams a couple of nights ago and asked him about your sin.”

“What did he say?” she asked nervously.

“Well, he furrowed his brow, paced around a bit, then shrugged his shoulders and said ‘What sin? I can’t remember any.’”

This is the covenant that I will make with them.
After these days, says the Lord,
I will place my laws in their hearts
and write them…

Rape & God’s Solidarity with the Violated

Faith Improvised
August 23, 2012

By timgombis

Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about rape last week ignited a firestorm. His ignorance of female anatomy and human reproduction, and his insensitivity to rape victims caused great offense.

There is much I’d like to say about many aspects of this discussion, but I’ll make just this one point: If I were a policy-maker in power who claimed to be Christian, I would tread very carefully on issues like this so as to avoid God’s judgment.

I say this because those who are violated and treated with extreme injustice have a place near and dear to the heart of the one true God.

Christians confess that in Jesus God himself became a victim of abuse and injustice, his body being violated.

The New Testament is explicit that in being so treated, Jesus was the ultimate and clearest possible revelation of the God of all creation (Mark 15:39; John 17; Phil. 2:5-11).

If, then, God intentionally became a victim and one of the violated, and Scripture clearly indi…

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 21st Ordinary (Day 4)

John 6:56-69

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
61 Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you were to see the Human One[a] going up where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can…

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 21st Ordinary (Day 3)

Ephesians 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
18 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. 19 As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll g…

Ten Things You Never Hear in Church

1. Personally, I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf.
2. I’ve decided to give our church the $500/month I used to send to TV evangelists.
3. I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Jr. High Sunday School class.
4. Forget the denominational minimum salary. Let’s pay our pastor so he or she can live like we do.
5. Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual stewardship campaign.
6. I was so enthralled, I never noticed your sermon was 25 minutes too long.
7. Pastor, we’d like to send you to this Bible seminar in the Bahamas.
8. Hey! It’s my turn to sit in the front pew!
9. I love it when we sing hymns I’ve never heard before.
10. Since we’re all here, let’s start worship early.

What about the Holy Spirit?

Without the Holy Spirit God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
The Gospel is simply an organization,
Authority is a matter of propaganda,
The Liturgy no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit
The cosmos is resurrected and grows with
The birth pangs of the kingdom.
The Risen Christ is there,
The Gospel is the power of life,
The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
Authority is a liberating science,
Mission is a Pentecost,
The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
Human action is deified.

-Patriarch Ignatius, address to the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, 1968.

Wonderful Reflection on George Herbert's Poem "The Altar"

Monday, 20 August 2012

Ben Myers posted this first reflection (of a hoped for 20) on the magnificent and theologically rich poetry of George Herbert.

Dear Mister Herbert: The Altar (1)

A while back I had the idea to write a small book titled Dear Mister Herbert – a series of letters to the English poet George Herbert. Herbert's collection of poems, The Temple, offers a whole theology of the Christian life. My idea is to sketch out his view of the Christian life through a series of short chapters, each responding to one of Herbert's poems. I thought I'd post some of them here – this is the first one, on "The Altar". Do you think this could work as a little book? I've planned for about twenty of these letters, tracing the broad outlines of the Christian life, from "The Altar" to "Love III". (And if any of you publishers out there are interested in a book like this, please…

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 21st Ordinary (Day 2)

Psalm 84

84 How lovely is your dwelling place,
LORD of heavenly forces!
2 My very being[a] longs, even yearns,
for the LORD’s courtyards.
My heart and my body
will rejoice out loud to the living God!
3 Yes, the sparrow too has found a home there;
the swallow has found herself a nest
where she can lay her young beside your altars,
LORD of heavenly forces, my king, my God!
4 Those who live in your house are truly happy;
they praise you constantly. Selah
5 Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
pilgrimage is in their hearts.
6 As they pass through the Baca Valley,[b]
they make it a spring of water.
Yes, the early rain covers it with blessings.
7 They go from strength to strength,
until they see the supreme God in Zion.[c]
8 LORD God of heavenly forces,
hear my prayer;
listen closely, Jacob’s God! Selah
9 Look at our shield, God;
pay close attention to the face of your anointed one!
10 Better is a single day in your cou…

The Veil of Opulence


The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.

More than 40 years ago the philosopher John Rawls, in his influential political work “A Theory of Justice,” implored the people of the world to shed themselves of their selfish predispositions and to assume, for the sake of argument, that they were ignorant. He imposed this unwelcome constraint not so that his readers — mostly intellectuals, but also students, politicians and policy makers — would find themselves in a position of moribund stupidity but rather so they could get a grip on fairness.

Rawls saw clearly that principles of justice like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion.

Rawls charged his readers to design a society from the ground up, from an original position, and he imposed the ignorance constraint so that readers would abandon any foreknowledge…

Whither Evangelism in 2012?

For some time now I have been pondering what the presentation of the gospel to the world might look like in light of some of the changes in biblical and systematic theology over last several decades. I don’t intend to rehearse those changes here. Others can and have done that better than I ever could.

However, how to articulate the gospel as an evangelistic message in light of these changes has received less and more piecemeal attention. I will attempt here to draft a sample of what such proclamation might look like today. Most of us realize that simple formulaic approaches to sharing the gospel (e.g., The Four Spiritual Laws, The Romans Road) no longer suffice (for a variety of reasons I’ll also forgo exploring here). Theology has made a decisive turn to a narrative or dramatic mode, and evangelistic proclamation must follow suit. Biblical theology has reshaped our understanding of the “story” the Bible tells in its many moods and modes. Thus, the evangelistic message must r…

Further Thoughts on How the Bible “Becomes” the Word of God

In Michael Ende’s wonderful fantasy tale The Neverending Story, Bastian is a young boy at loose ends. His mother has recently died, both his dad and his schoolmates bully him, and he finds himself alone and isolated at school. In a word, in a world full of loss and pain Bastian feels hopeless and helpless to do anything about his plight.

The one refuge he has is an old bookshop and its cranky proprietor, Coreander. Bastian loves to read great adventure and fantasy tales. One day, while talking to Coreander about these great stories, Bastian’s spies a special looking book the old proprietor holds in his hands.

Here’s their conversation:

Bastian: What’s that book about?

Coreander: Oh, this is something special.

Bastian: Well, what is it ?

Coreander: Look. You’re books are safe. While you’re reading them you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe.

Bastian: But that’s what I like about them.

Coreander: Yes, but afterwards you get to be a little boy again.

Bastian: What do you mean…