Saturday, October 30, 2010


I am against Halloween, but not for the reasons that most Christians who are against it give. Pagan origins don’t bother me, nor do I think Satan somehow gains extra power when children dress up as ghosts or witches.

The real reason I object to Halloween – and this is a point I have never heard any other parent make – is because the holiday (at least in its contemporary manifestation) gravitates towards the celebration of ugliness. In so far as this observation is correct (and a cursory glance at Halloween decorations suggests that it is), Halloween is antithetic to the values we should be trying to instill in our children, namely an enjoyment of goodness, truth and beautiful.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The "Double-Truth" Universe 1

In my 2009 publication The Twilight of Liberalism, I discuss how beneath the apparent success of Christianity in the West during the 18th and 19th centuries, a subtle dualism crept into the picture which found expression in the anti-intellectual trends of the 20th century.
On the surface, Christianity seemed to spread in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Movements sprung up all over the place, including the Quakers and Methodists in England, the Great Awakening in America, Jansenism in France, Pietism in Germany, etc. However, beneath the apparent progress Christianity was making, there was an underlying, usually unconscious, acceptance of the divided epistemology. These movements tended to emphasize the personal, emotional and inspirational aspects of faith often at the expense of the objective, public elements. In his article, “The Pietistic Roots of Evangelicalism Today,” Ranald Macaulay shows that these pietistic evangelical movements led to an almost exclusive emphasis on saving souls while the domains of culture, society, politics, art and philosophy were left firmly in the hands of the secularists. The Enlightenment’s compartmentalization of the sacred and the secular, together with its definition of which belonged in which box, seemed to be winning the day. Christianity was fast ceasing to function as a religion in the classic sense of being a totalizing system that structured the whole of one’s life, but was instead becoming, at best, a system of strong personal piety and, at worst, a personal worship hobby. Further, as faith became analogous to a personal, inward experience, anti-intellectualism followed as surely as water runs downhill.

As time progressed, these strains only heightened, culminating in the strident anti-intellectual evangelicalism of the late 19th and early 20th century. Evangelists like Dwight Moody began to appear on the scene who boasted about not having any theology (“My theology! I didn’t know I had any”) or Billy Sunday who declared he didn’t “know any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knew about ping pong.”

The “double-truth universe” bequeathed by the Enlightenment found renewed impetus in the increasing polarization between earth and heaven that was so characteristic of 20th-century piety. If religion is about our personal and private experiences with God, then true piety consists in having our minds fixed on heavenly realities instead of earthly concerns. In practice this meant getting as many people into heaven as possible. Once you were “saved” – that is, once your ticket to a happy afterlife was secured – Christian living was thought to involve little more than living by a pedestrian code of personal pietism. No longer was the Bible seen as giving us a worldview that structured the whole of public reality. It became instead a privatized faith that, as Roszak put it, was “socially irrelevant even if privately engaging.” It is hardly surprising that around this same time (late 19th, early 20th century) hymnology began to be increasingly “feminized,” with the singing of robust psalms and hymns replaced by subjective sentiments (“he lives within my heart,” or “now I am happy all the day,” or “precious memories of everything Jesus has done for me”).

Religion, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Thus it was that as the church became diluted by anti-intellectualism, feminization, pietism and cultural anorexia, it retreated from the academic pursuits. Thus it was that the church as a whole was largely unprepared to combat the influx of liberal theology and deconstructionism that began to pour into England and America in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Emergent Church & the Theology of Isolationism

In my previous post "Matter/Spirit Dualism", I suggested that the implied dualism between mission and vocation or between gospel ministry and creation ministry closely parallels the matter/spirit disjunction that Dorothy Sayers' opposed. Mission and gospel relate to the “spiritual” end of saving souls, while our vocation and work with creation have only temporal value since such tasks are occupied only with the material world. In this post I want to suggest that there are ecclesiological consequences that have followed a similar trajectory within the contemporary evangelical project, especially within that cluster of evangelicalism that has self-styled itself as “emergent.”

 The “Emerging” Quest for the Invisible

Just as classical Gnosticism was self-consciously anti-establishment (a point I discuss in my review of Against the Protestant Gnostics), so those who have embraced the “emergent” or “liquid” paradigm have imbibed many emblems of anti-institutionalism in a move to self-consciously separate themselves from “religion” and in some cases from the structural connotations of the very term “Christianity.” The "emergent" sub-culture has largely formed its identity through its assault on the institutional church, as seen in recent bestselling publications like The Shack and So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore. By following the postmodern paradigm of relocating the nexus of true religion in private experience as well as informal relationships that are deliberately and self-consciously outside the context of a visible church setting, these books have given a huge impetus to the groundswell of anti-ecclesiological assumptions that, more than anything else, echo Gnosticism‟s obsession with the invisible.

Jonathan Edwards on Resurrection

I recently posted some shocking statistics about the denial of future bodily resurrection among professing Christians. One of the best resources for understanding why this denial is so radically unbiblical is Tom Wright’s refreshing book Surprised by Hope. For those who don’t have time to read Wright’s book, however, the following words from Jonathan Edwards serve as a timely reminder of just how wrong-headed this crypto-gnosticism is:

Sex Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

"The fact is that the incidence of sexual abuse among Catholic clergy over the past fifty years (about 4%) has been similar to the abuse rate among Protestant clergy. The main difference is that the Catholic Church’s institutional unity enables the full scope of the problem to be perceived and attacked in a way that could hardly happen among the fragmented denominations of Protestantism. Moreover, since Catholics would do better not to defend themselves, even when slandered, we Protestants have the responsibility to come alongside them, expose slanders, and work to shine the light of truth on the situation, rather than descending like carrion birds on our wounded brothers." Brad Littlejohn, from 'The Ghost of Decades Past' from Fermentations Issue 3.

Friday, October 22, 2010

George Herbert Poem 'Grace'

My stock lies dead, and no increase
Doth my dull husbandry improve:
O let they graces without cease
                           Drop from above!

If still the sun should hide his face,
Thy house would but a dungeon prove,
Thy works nights captives: O let grace
                           Drop from above!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Alarming Survey on Bodily Resurrection

"Most Americans don’t believe they will experience a resurrection of their bodies after they die, putting them at odds with a core teaching of Christianity," I read today here. The article confirms concerns that I expressed in my earlier article, "Resurrection or Disembodiment." The writers go on to say:
The findings of a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll surprised and dismayed some of the nation’s top theologians since it seems to put Americans in conflict with the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, ancient statements of faith meant to unify Christian belief.

Monday, October 18, 2010


"Something is not wrong simply because it is 'worldly,' according to biblical terminology; it is "worldly" because it is wrong." From Tim Gallant's excellent article "A Creational Perspective on Modern Music: Introductory Thoughts"

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Increase Mather on Drink

The Puritan Increase Mather, said in one of his sermons: "Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan; the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ordering Art About

I wonder what Dorothy Sayers would say about some of the “Christian films” that have been produced in recent years. In his biography of Sayers, David Coomes writes (summarizing Sayers’ approach in writing a play about Christ), “It was not properly the object of a work of art to preach, teach, convince, convert, evangelize; her sole legitimate object had been to tell the story – nothing more and nothing less. Quality was all important: piety and a prayerful spirit would not turn a bad play into a good one, and all too often sloppy books, amateurish plays and syrupy music provided intelligent people with powerful arguments against the Church. The corruption of intellectual integrity had to be guarded against. Religion might be superior to Art, but Religion should resist the temptation to order Art about; the artist’s task was not to do good, but to express truth according to his or her own experience.

See Christian Film Making

Is Britain Becoming a Muslim Nation?

Britain is becoming a quasi-muslim nation complete with sharia law, just like in an Islamic country. Moreover, Muslims routinely receive preferential treatment and status over and above the indigenous British citizens. To read more about this, see "Is the UK now the United Kingdom of Taliban?"

Further Reading

Islam's European Conquest: Is America Next?

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades


Giving Succour to the Extremists Who Would Destroy Us

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aristotle on an educated mind

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Aristotle


Humour"The sense of humour is fundamental to our sense of proportion and therefore to our very rationality. No argument is needed to stress that humour is a bulwark against despair and insanity." Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind

Glorifying God in Music

How does my music glorify God? Some CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) folk seem to think that their music glorifies God, if only they sing about God. And I suppose that the proper response is: well, perhaps the word-content of your music glorifies God. (But even here, it is all too common to find shallowness and banality.)
It is, however, anti-creational to insist that the glory of God resides only in the text, not the music. We are created as embodied beings, who do embodied things. The precedent of creation means that we should not be indifferent to that which we create.
Consequently, as musicians we need to make higher demands of ourselves than merely asking the question: "Are these lyrics biblical, or biblically-grounded?" We need to ask ourselves: "Am I imitating God in my creativity?" Because God didn't create junk. He created beauty. If we wish our music to glorify God, we need to be more creational. And that means that we need to care more about the package. Not in the way CCM so often operates, where the "package" refers to image, and it means presenting yourself in a way similar to the worldly presentation. NO! I'll even go further: we have to stop thinking about music merely as a package. We're devaluing it. Music is more than a vehicle for lyrics. Music is an endeavour to reflect the creative activity of God. 

The above passage is taken from Tim Gallant's excellent article "A Creational Perspective on Modern Music: Introductory Thoughts". To read some of my other posts about music, click here.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Matter/Spirit Dualism

In my previous post, "Dorothy Sayers and the Aliveness of All Things", I discussed the way Sayers went to such lengths to establish what she termed “the intimate unison between spirit and matter.” To a large degree Sayers was legitimately reacting against the disjunction between the material world and the spiritual that was a recurring motif in 20th century Protestant discourse. James Campbell was typical when, in 1924, he observed that,
“When the material world perishes, we shall find ourselves in the spiritual world; when the dream of life ends, we shall awake in the world of reality; when our connection with this world comes to a close, we shall find ourselves in our eternal spirit home.” 
Behind Campbell’s words lay the assumption that matter and spirit are not merely distinguishable, in the way that men and women are distinguishable, but that they are utterly divisible and contradistinct, similar to the antithesis between light and darkness. Over and against the traditional of historic Christian theology which had maintained that the doctrines of Creation, Incarnation and Resurrection made possible the marrying together of matter and spirit, much popular evangelicalism of the 20th century seemed to be following the Gnostics in urging their divorce. Nowhere was this more evident than in the nascent Platonism opposed by Sayers which made the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, rather than bodily resurrection, the central locus of the Christian’s hope.

Calvinist Self-Confidence

Under Calvinism, the medieval division of humanity into those engaged in secular work vs. those engaged in spiritual callings (priests and nuns) was displaced by an acute awareness of the division between the reprobate and the regenerate, between those who are predestined to eternal life vs. those who are damned to an eternity of darkness.[1]

This new division presented certain practical difficulties, the chief one being the obvious question: how am I to know whether or I am predestined to salvation?[2]

John Calvin – who never personally struggled with doubt - was cavalier in dismissing the question.[3] Yet the question lost none of its potency, for as Calvin rightly discerned, “those who do not know that they are God’s own will be miserable through constant fear.”[4] To overcome this fear, Calvinists did not have the luxury, as Roman Catholics did, of assuming that one’s salvation could be guaranteed by the extent of one’s devotions to prayers, good works and participation in the sacraments. Salvation rested entirely in the hidden decrees of God, and if God had ordained you for destruction, there was nothing you could do to change this fact. So how could you know if you were saved? For the Lutherans the answer was simple: you knew you had been chosen by the fervency of your faith.[5] For Calvinists, who repudiated what Weber calls the “purely inward emotional piety of Lutheranism”[6] and were less inclined to separate law and grace, the matter was more complicated.

The answer, according to Calvin, is that a Christians knows he has been saved by his perseverance[7], good works[8] and ironically by the feeling of assurance itself.[9]

Friday, October 08, 2010

"Everything Does Praise God"

I came across this following wonderful quote from Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism which is an excellent compliment to Dorothy Sayers' comments about matter and the aliveness of all things as well as Thomas Howard's comments about the bringing together of spirit and matter.

For this reason God even impressed a religious expression on the whole of unconscious nature, - on plants, on animals and also on children. "The whole earth is full of His glory." "How excellent is Thy Name, God, in all the earth." "The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork." "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou has ordained praise." Frost and hail, snow and vapour, the abyss and the hurricane, - everything does praise God.
For someone as passionately anti-Gnostic as myself, it doesn't get any better than that!

Books I've Been Reading

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I think, therefore, I'm guilty

Once again Melanie Phillips has put her finger on the problem in her recent blog post "I think, therefore I'm guilty."

She points out that the intellectual trend in Britain is a remorseless slide towards a dark age of intolerance, reverting to a reason-suppressing, heresy-hunting culture in which certain opinions are being turned into thought crimes.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Vaccinated Against Your Will

The Daily Mail has reported that patients who refused to have the swine flu jab last year will be vaccinated against it anyway during this autumn’s seasonal flu campaign. This is rather concerning in light of some of the legitimate concerns that have been raised against the vaccine last year.

Big Brother is your jokes

According to THIS article in the Daily Mail, mother-in-law jokes, once the bedrock of British comedy, have been banned by the London Borough of Barnet because they are ‘offensively sexist’ and disrespectful to ‘family elders’.

Oh Gosh. Now the government wants to legislate politeness, or rather their eschewed notion of it. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg of the totalitarian drift of modern Britain.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Dorothy Sayers Against the Gnostics

 Speaking of a passage in Dante, Dorothy Sayers wrote, “Notice how entirely different it is from the Gnostic and NeoPlatonic thought which characterises the great Oriental religions and so often tried to infiltrate into Christianity. For the Gnostics, creation is evil, and the outflowing of the One into the Many is a disaster: the true end of the Many is to lose the derived self and be reabsorbed into the One. But for the Christian, it is not so. The derived self is the glory of the creature and the multiplicity and otherness of the universe is its joy. The true end of the creature is that it should reflect, each in its own way and to its capacity great or small, some tiny facet of the infinite variety comprised within the unity of the One....The higher the created being is, and the nearer to God, the more utterly it is itself and the more it differs from its fellow-creatures.” Introductory Papers on Dante
(Methuen & Co, London), 1954, p. 48.

“Now we must say, straight away, and without possibility of misunderstanding, that any doctrine which maintains that matter is evil in itself is entirely heretical and entirely un-Christian. The Church does not say that matter is evil, nor that the body is evil. For her very life, she dare not. For her whole life is bound up in the doctrine that God Himself took human nature upon Him and went about this material world as a living man, with a human body and a human brain, and that he was perfect and sinless in the body as out of the body, in time as in eternity, in earth as in heaven. That is her creed; that is the dogma; that is the opinion to which she stands committed. If she were for one moment to admit that matter and body were in themselves evil things, she would blast away the very foundations of her existence and utterly destroy herself. For her, matter is so good that God could make Himself a part of it, and take no hurt to His perfection, nor to His holiness.” From 1940 BBC radio address, ‘The Sacrament of Matter,’ lot 292, iii of the Sotheby’s collection, Wade Center. Cited by Laura Simmons in Creed Without Chaos, p.80.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Dogma is the Drama

"It is the dogma that is the drama--not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death--but the terrifying assertion that the same God Who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realise that here is something that a man might be glad to believe." Dorothy Sayers

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