Friday, November 29, 2013

On Christendom

"The life of the nation, no less than the life of the individual, needs to be regulated by Christ’s lordship. The Bible is not simply a devotional manual for our private lives, but a template for bringing all of culture into subjection to Christ… “Christendom” is not simply a collection of Christians living together in society, but it comprises the institutions, literature, manners, works of arts, educational values—in short, the entire fabric of culture—which emanate from Christian civilization. A moment of time is all it takes for a person to turn from unbelief to faith in Christ, but it takes hundreds of years to build Christendom out of a previously pagan society." Saints and Scoundrels, page 87-88


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Friday, November 22, 2013

Attentiveness and People

Does the proliferation of virtual communities make it harder to be attentive
to each other in real-life communication? This is a question that I have been
addressing in my ongoing series about attentiveness.
On Monday I published the third installment in my ongoing series of articles for the Colson Center on attentiveness. (The earlier entries can be read here and here.)

Whereas my previous articles looked at attention from the standpoint of our reading habits, this latest article explores the importance of also being attentive to people.

What does it mean to attend to someone as a real flesh-and-blood body?

Does the increasing hegemony of online social networks encourage us to escape from the embeddedness of our humanity, masking over the vulnerability and fragility that is necessarily presence in 'real' relationships? 

And what is the relationship between reading books and reading people?

These are all questions I have attempted to address in this latest article. To read my thoughts, click on the following link:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Privileging the Ear

In his book Reformed Theology and Visual Culture, William Dyrness makes some interesting observations about Calvin which echo some of the points I made in my earlier blog post 'Are Calvinists Also Among the Gnostics?' In commenting on a quote from Calvin's Theological Treatises where the reformer noted that "it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his word be received through the organs of the body," Dyrness writes,

No bodily organ is necessary, Calvin wants to claim, but of course some organ must be used. For apart from actual hearing (in the actual performance of worship), one could never receive the truth of the preached word with or without a believing heart. So in fact the ear is privileged over the eye (the function of which has been reduced to a cipher for comprehension). And it is the word that becomes especially joined to the work of the Holy Spirit. But one wonders: why should the ear be any less capable of mishearing or falling for obstinate superstition than the eye? Or contrariwise, if faith involves a special kind of perception, why must the Holy Spirit be joined only to the aural word of preaching and not to some parallel word made flesh (visible)? After all in the earlier history of the Church such a relationship found ample support in the biblical doctrines of creation and incarnation. One could argue of course that Calvin, along with the other reformers, is recovering an emphasis that is biblical and which results from his own careful rereading of the texts. But clearly his own reactions to medieval practices, which we have reviewed, provided an important component of the context in which he did his exegesis.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Remembering a President

by Terrell Clemmons, guest blogger


Standoff
Soviet R-12 intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile in Red Square
On the morning of October 28th, 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, received a cable from Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador in Washington. For nearly two weeks the Soviet Union and the United States had been engaged in a nuclear standoff in the Atlantic Ocean over Soviet missiles in Cuba. Cold War tensions were as high as they had ever been. The cable relayed a message handed to the ambassador by US Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the brother of the President.

The message was direct and clear: Time is running out. The United States is prepared to take strong and overwhelming retaliatory action by the end of the week if Moscow does not immediately agree to withdraw its missiles from Cuba.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Introducing Esther new Daily Diary

My wife, Esther, has started
a daily diary about our family
My lovely wife, Esther, has begun doing a daily diary, about our family and the various essential oils we use in our home. The diary entries will be appearing on my other blog, 'Grasping the Essence.'

Esther started the diary last Friday with a post introducing our family and talking about an adventure I had in the kitchen making a Lavender and Orange oil custard.

Her second installment told about my trip to visit my twin brother after six years without seeing each other. She has included some pictures of me and my twin, Patrick.

Esther's third installment, published earlier today, describes our family's adventures with mice in the downstairs of our house.

I anticipate more interesting posts in the days ahead, with lots of pictures of us and our children. The link to all her diary entries is here.





Darwin was wrong...again!


"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason,” wrote Robert Jastrow in God and the Astronomers, “the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” 
 
Jastrow’s words come to mind whenever I hear about professional scientists being obliged to abandon, or at least to seriously modify, their Darwinian assumptions. From cutting-edge work in genetics to the latest discoveries in astrophysics, the evidence is increasingly pointing to one fact: Darwin was wrong. 
 
This has been impressed upon me recently, as I have been studying the way culture affects the human brain. Contemporary neuroscientists have been making some fascinating discoveries about the way our cultural preoccupations and artifacts alter the physiological structure of our brains, and, once again, Darwinian orthodoxy is being compelled to yield to new findings.

Dogs, Pigeons & Beethoven 

Let’s begin with a fact that no one disputes: different species have brains suited to the demands of their kinds; brain structures differ among species according to need. The brains of dogs, for example, have a greater facility than human brains for processing smells, because dogs need a high level of olfactory acuity to survive in the wild. Indeed, the odor-processing region of the canine brain is about four times the size of the one in your brain or mine. Or again, the brains of pigeons have the ability to process magnetic information, which they use to navigate vast distances accurately, whereas our brains do not have this faculty since we don’t need it; we can create and use navigational instruments. 

On the other hand, human brains possess structures that allow us to do all sorts of things that dogs and pigeons cannot, such as to reason analytically and to appreciate art. It isn’t that no one has ever tried to teach a pigeon how to do calculus or to relish the glories of the way Beethoven expanded the sonata-allegro form; it’s that no one ever could; the pigeon’s brain is structurally incapable of apprehending these things. 

Sea Gypsies & Taxi Drivers 

Interestingly, what is true as regards the brain structures of different species is also true regarding the brain structure of different groups of human beings—though only up to a point. Still, this fact raises some questions. 

Take, for example, the Sea Gypsies, a maritime tribe of people living off the coast of Thailand. These people have brains that facilitate exceptionally keen underwater vision. Not only can their brains override the reflex that normally controls the shape of the pupil, enabling a Sea Gypsy to constrict his pupils by 22 percent, but they can also accurately compensate for the refraction that occurs when light passes through water. To expect a non-Sea Gypsy like myself to exhibit the same facility would be like expecting a dog to deliberately bark in F major or a pigeon to coo in D minor. 

So how is it that the Sea Gypsies have this amazing ability? According to standard Darwinian theory, the explanation goes something like this: over thousands of years, our genetic makeup gradually changes to conform to the demands of our environments, leading to appropriate changes in the structure of our brains. Genes that have survival value will be perpetuated through succeeding generations, while those that do not will tend to die out. 

Thus, according to the Darwinian narrative, ­because Sea Gypsies spend much of their lives around the water and survive by diving to great depths to harvest food, their genetic makeup gradually came to include these unique capabilities, just as the genetic makeup of dogs came to include exceptional odor-processing faculties. In both cases, we are observing the results of gradual adaptation spanning thousands of years. 
 
But, as I suggested earlier, this evolutionary narrative has recently had to be abandoned by professional neuroscientists. We now understand that these types of variations in the brains of different people groups have nothing to do with genetics at all. The physiological structure of our brains, including hundreds of thousands of neuro-connections, do evolve to adapt themselves to our natural and cultural habitats, but this evolution occurs within a single lifetime without leaving a footprint on the genetic code. 

This was demonstrated through a study of brain scans done on London taxi drivers in the late 1990s. Researchers found that, in the cabbies, the posterior hippocampus, a part of the brain that stores spatial representations, was considerably larger than in non-cab drivers. Now, clearly, a London taxi-driver’s genetic make-up is not fundamentally different from a London mechanic’s or a London web designer’s, yet there are very clear structural differences in their brains. 


Keep reading...

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Peter Leithart on the End of Protestantism

Peter Leithart
Peter Leithart wrote an interesting article yesterday called 'The End of Protestantism.' Peter Leithart is always interesting to read and is always very gracious in his approach to controversial issues. This article was no exception.

In this article, which appeared in the First Things 'On the Square' column, Leithart contrasts modern Protestantism from the true, more authentic Protestantism of the magisterial reformers, which he calls 'Reformational Catholicism.' He shows just how far removed modern Protestantism has come from its historic roots - a point that should encourage deep self-reflection among modern Protestants.

But there was one part of Leithart's article that raised some questions in my mind. Leithart is keen to emphasize that a central characteristic of true Protestantism (what he calls 'Reformational Catholicism' in order to distinguish it from those who claim the mantle of Protestantism but are not actually holding down the fort of the reformers' vision) is the acceptance of Roman Catholicism as a true church.

Now in itself I have no problem with this charitable approach to Rome, and it echoes points I have made on this blog throughout the years (see my posts here and here, for example). However, what I question is Leithart's insistence that his position (that Rome is a true church) is truly authentic to the reformers' vision.  Leithart writes,
Some Protestants don’t view Roman Catholics as Christians, and won’t acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. A Reformational Catholic regards Catholics as brothers, and regrets the need to modify that brotherhood as “separated.” To a Reformational Catholic, it’s blindingly obvious that there’s a billion-member Church of Jesus Christ centered in Rome. Because it regards the Roman Catholic Church as barely Christian, Protestantism leaves Roman Catholicism to its own devices. “They” had a pedophilia scandal, and “they” have a controversial pope. A Reformational Catholic recognizes that turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church is turmoil in his own family.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Is it Real, or Is It Disinformation?

by Terrell Clemmons, guest blogger


The Great American Church Fire Hoax  

The Campaign 
In the spring of 1996, a spate of news reports about black church fires in America dominated airwaves and inflamed decent people both at home and abroad. The World Council of Churches (WCC) flew thirty-eight pastors to Washington, DC, to provide government leaders with more information about this racist tragedy. In a June radio address, President Clinton spoke with emotion about his own “vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.” Charging that “racial hostility is the driving force,” he pledged the full power of the federal government to the crisis and put two hundred federal agents on the case.

By late summer, more that twenty-two hundred articles in the press had condemned what the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR) called “a well-organized white-supremacist movement.” The Church Fire Prevention Act of 1996 was signed into law in July, making church arson a federal crime, and $12 million was appropriated for combating fires at churches with black congregations. The National Council of Churches (NCC), the national affiliate of the WCC, took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and several other outlets soliciting donations for its new “Burned Churches Fund.” It reportedly raised nearly $9 million in two days, with contributions continuing at about $100,000/day.

Reentry



by Terrell Clemmons, guest blogger

It has been just over a year since I last posted here. I didn’t fall off the face of the earth, though anyone who pays attention could be forgiven for wondering what happened. The short answer, honestly, would probably be equal parts life changes and inertia.

Life changes: For me, last fall brought an unexpected disruption, including a long aftermath, which caused me to have to rearrange a lot of things, schedule-wise. Those things happen. To do what priorities demand, one must adjust, which I did. It had to do with one of my children, and I’m a mom first.

Inertia. Things began to settle down somewhat long about April. That’s when inertia settled in. I kept up with commitments and ongoing assignments, but the longer I went disengaged from the other outlets, the bigger the “block” that stood in the way of reentry. Procrastination breeds procrastination, does it not?

So given that it’s been a while, I thought I should (1) give a big shout of thanks to Robin, who’s kept this outlet open for me with no complaint and (2) give you a little explanation of why I abruptly disappeared. (Here’s the intro Robin gave when I first came on.)

That said, I hope is to get back to regular posts here. I would love to hear from you, too. Healthy two-way dialogue keeps us thinking.

Terrell Clemmons

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Daylight Savings Time

Short History of the Prayer Book

I've just finished reading an excellent little overview of the history of the Book of Common Prayer. Titled 'Archbishop Cranmer's Immortal Bequest' and written by Samuel Leuenberger, the article explores the evangelistic and reformed influences (which Leuenberger, rather confusedly calls 'revivalism') on the Prayer Book. Click on the following link to download the article as a pdf:


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