Friday, April 29, 2011

Questions about Sola Scriptura

One of the useful things about blogging is that it gives me a chance to get feedback on questions I’m thinking through. I’ve tried to get a discussion group started at my house where people can come over and discuss some of my questions, but since that has never got off the ground (any local friends interested???), I am reduced to using this blog to generate discussion. (For example, see my ‘Question About the Great Schism' and ‘Question about Apostolic Succession’ and 'Questions about Ecumenical Councils' to join in the discussion about these important issues.)

All to say, I now have some questions about the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which I’d like feedback on.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Questions about Ecumenical Councils

In August 2009 I posted a question about the great schism that generated a lot of discussion about Eastern Orthodoxy (55 comments, actually). During the discussion I raised some questions about ecumenical councils which I still wonder about. Although I got some helpful feedback and modified some of my views in the course of the discussion, the questions I raised do remain relevant in  struggling to know what to think about Eastern Orthodoxy. For example, I raised the important question of how a person knows whether an Ecumenical council is truly Ecumenical. I'll re-post what I said to hopefully generate some feedback:

Rousseau and the Parenthood of the State

In her 1910 publication Euthenics: The Science of Controllable Environment, Ellen H Richards wrote that, “The control of man’s environment for his own good as a function of government is a comparatively new idea in republican democracy….It is part of the urban trend that the will of the man, of the head of the family, should be superseded by that of the community, city, state, nation….In the social republic, the child as a future citizen is an asset of the state, not the property of its parents. Hence its welfare is a direct concern of the state.”

Richards’ idea was a simple one: children do not belong to their parents, but are the property of that Great Parent known as the State.

The idea that parents should stop thinking of their children as belonging to them was echoed more recently in 1996 when Hillary Clinton addressed the United Methodist General Conference. “As adults” she said, “we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child. My child, your child, all children everywhere, must live and make their ways in society, and now, in the increasingly shrinking world we live in, in the larger globe as well.”

Such ideas are not limited to the United States. When I lived in Britain in 2007, the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research put forward a proposal for increasing “identity, citizenship and community cohesion” in Britain. The report urged christening services to be replaced by “birth ceremonies” in which the parents agree to “work in partnership” with the state to raise their children.

The idea that we should think of the State like a parent is actually nothing new and is old as sin itself. When the emperor Diocletian published his Edict of 301, mandating the persecution of Christians, he justified the move by referring to himself and his associates as “the watchful parents of the whole human race.” Similar examples of rulers ascribing to themselves parental privileges abound throughout the history of the ancient world.

But while the idea of the parental state may be nothing new, its modern manifestation can be traced back to one notorious French villain: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. To read more about Rousseau, visit my article at the Alfred the Great Society titled, "Rousseau and the Parenthood of the State."

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Friday, April 22, 2011

A Festival not a Machine

In an article I wrote earlier in the year about Jonathan Edwards, I pointed out that when medieval man had looked up into the sky and contemplated the heavens, he was greeted not with a deep vacuity, but with a delightful dance; not a machine unwinding like clockwork, but a magnificent ceremony unfolding like a dance. Dorothy Sayers described the medieval universe as having “hierarchy, order, and purpose” as its “distinguishing marks” while C.S. Lewis described as “tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine.”

The writings of thirteenth-century poet Dante Alighieri were animated by this same vision. The universe of Dante was alive, pulsating with the energy of God and His angels, bathed in radiance and glory:

The glory of Him who moves all things soe’er
    Impenetrates the universe, and bright
    The splendor burns, more here, and lesser there.

In his book, English Literature in the 16th Century, C.S. Lewis observed that all Christendom shared this same vision until roughly the seventeenth century. Under the impetus of advances in science, man began to complete a process Lewis describes as “emptying” the universe. Man, with his new powers of observation and scientific analysis, “became rich like Midas but all that he touched had gone dead and cold.” (From Lewis’s essay, ‘The Empty Universe.’)

After the 17th century advances in science, man began to complete a process that Lewis described as “emptying” the universe. With his new powers of observation and scientific analysis, man “became rich like Midas but all that he touched had gone dead and cold.”  The universe that emerged under the telescope of modern science was “dead and cold” precisely because it was an autonomous mathematical machine, no longer radiating with aliveness. It was not that thinkers at the advent of the modern age had actually stopped believing that the world was created by God; rather, they began to view the mechanisms of the universe as separate from spiritual categories.

C.S. Lewis suggested that a key figure in this paradigm shift was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). A pioneer in the 17th century scientific revolution and precursor to Newton, Kepler began his career within the medieval tradition of explaining the motion of the planets by their anima motrices. By the end of his life, however, he was describing the stars mechanically. The net effect of the new mechanistic science was towards a disenchanted, de-spiritualized – one might even say dismembered - view of materiality.
As the 17th century progressed, this despiritualized view of matter was made even more explicit by a number of thinkers, not least Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes advocated a philosophical materialism which effectively collapsed all of reality into the physical realm. The universe of Hobbes consisted entirely of matter in motion, while matter exists entirely of extension. Thoughts are nothing other than images formed from the residue of sensations produced by external objects acting on our bodies.

There is no logical reason why a thoroughly scientific understanding of the universe should lead to a mechanistic and impersonal view of the cosmos. After all, to identify what a thing is made of or how it works, is to say nothing about what a thing is. That is why the best Christian thinkers have found beauty and personality in the very mathematical precision of the cosmos and its motions.

In his 2000 publication The Spirit of Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) explains how St. Augustine built upon the cosmology of the Greek philosophy Pythagoras who “did not interpret the mathematics of the universe in an entirely abstract way” but followed the ancients in believing that “intelligent actions presupposed an intelligence that caused them.” Ratzinger continued:

The intelligent, mathematical movements of the heavenly bodies were not explained, therefore, in a purely mechanical way; they could only be understood on the assumption that the heavenly bodies were animated, were themselves ‘intelligent.’
For Christians, there was a spontaneous turn at this point from the stellar deities to the choirs of angels that surround God and illumine the universe. Perceiving the ‘music of the cosmos’ thus becomes listening to the song of angels, and the reference to Isaiah chapter 6 [Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory,” Isaiah 6:3] naturally suggests itself.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Importance of Family Worship

"The crown of the American family life, and one of the strongest proofs of the power of Christianity over the people, is table-prayer, which is almost universal; and daily family worship, which is the rule at least in religious circles, and is proportionally more frequent there, than in any other country, except perhaps England and Scotland. The ultimate effects of this pious custom on children and children's children are incalculable; and it must go well with a people, where the father feels it his duty and his joy to gather the members of his household every morning around the Holy Scriptures, as their daily bread of life, and to bow with them before the throne of the Almighty, and implore His blessing on the labors of the day." Philip Schaff, America

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Evangelicalism and Nationalism

If I can ever get funding to do so, I hope to someday research and write a short book about the strange confluence of evangelicalism with American nationalism.

One of the greatest paradoxes of American history is that the strain of evangelicalism represented by revivalists like Finney – and latter his heirs such as Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday – which stripped religion of its sacerdotal, institutional and liturgical apparatuses, would begin to invest all these same qualities in the civic rites, institutions and metanarratives of American nationalism, in addition to what William Cavanaugh has called the “enacted myths of patriotic ritual.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Doubt and Opaqueness are in, Answers Are Out

In Response to Rob Bell's book Love Wins, Tim Challis has written an interesting post on what he has identified as the new evangelical virtues evident in the emerging Church. Echoing Chesterton's insights on intellectual humility, Challis identifies the new evangelical virtues as being doubt, opaqueness and questions without answers.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Your food freedom is being threatened

Back in 2009 I wrote an article for World Net Daily warning that nationalized health care is the thin end of a wedge that can only end in totalitarianism. I argued that this is because any time there is a direct link between the physical health of a populace and the nation's fiscal integrity (which there obviously is when government promises to pick up the tab on everyone's medical expenses), the state cannot help but develop an inordinate interest in keeping its citizens healthy. I argued that a government which promises to provide health care for its citizens begins to take a deep interest in the minutiae of their personal lives.

As if in uncanny fulfillment of my predictions, news has been pouring in of the American government asserting control over the health decisions of its people. No longer is it our own business what we eat and drink - it's the deep concern of Uncle Sam, and he is prepared to use force to bring us into line. 
My concern over this issue prompted me to do an interview with Ryan Close on the importance of health freedom and how that freedom is currently under attack. Read the interview now.

Further Reading

Totalitarian Creep

An Historic Perspective on the Health Care Debate

Ready for Papa Barack to dictate your lifestyle? 

Freedom of Health: Does Uncle Sam Own Your Body?

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Refutation through Diagnosis

In an article published this morning at the Charles Colson Center, I referred to an essay that C.S. Lewis published in his book God in the Dock. In the essay, titled “‘Bulverism’ or, the Foundation of 20th Century Thought,” Lewis identified a practice that was becoming widespread in his day – the practice of psychologizing those we disagree with instead of showing how their arguments are actually false.
“Nowadays,” wrote Lewis, “the Freudian will tell you to go and analyse [those who] all think Elizabeth a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source.” While it may be true that those who think Elizabeth a great queen do so because they have a mother-complex, “Does the taint invalidate the tainted thought – in the sense of making it untrue – or not?” asks Lewis.

We run into this sort of thing all the time. Keep reading...

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bonhoeffer and the Doctrine of Joy

Today is the anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's death. In an article I wrote last October I spoke about the circumstances surrounding Bonhoeffer's death and what we can learn from his example. More recently, however, my thoughts have turned towards the lessons we can learn from his life about joy and gratitude, especially during times of trial.

In an article I recently wrote for the Charles Colson Center, titled, "Gratitude and Joy in the Midst of Suffering," I pointed out that even in the midst of the agonizing circumstances of a Nazi prison, Bonhoeffer never ceased to overflow with gratitude towards the Lord. Facing the daily possibility of death, he regarded each day as a precious gift from the Lord, to be received with thankfulness and joy.

“I think we honor God more” Bonhoeffer once wrote “if we gratefully accept the life that he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full.”

In the aforementioned article I point out that
It is doubtful that gratefulness came easy to Bonhoeffer, especially in the difficult days leading up to his execution. He had much to be troubled over and the temptation to grumble must have been great. During his days in prison the worst torment was his separation from his beloved fiancée, Maria, and the uncertainty of not knowing whether she was safe. Yet throughout these sufferings, Bonhoeffer remained exuberantly grateful to God.

One English officer, imprisoned with Bonhoeffer, later commented: “Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.”

To read more, visit my article "Gratitude and Joy in the Midst of Suffering"

Friday, April 08, 2011

Is Charles Hodge Also Among the Gnostics?

This post is about Charles Hodge, but I must begin by giving some background. In my article “Finney and the ‘New Measures’”, I shared some of the strange practices that entered into the America church in the mid 19th century. In short, subjective experience replaced Church as the nexus of Protestant religion, giving rise to the popular Gnostic notion that “Christianity is a relationship not a religion” (a notion I respond to HERE).

This point was not lost on Philip Schaff, who expressed concern that the popular revivalism of his day (discussed under the rubric of Methodism), was replacing objective means of grace such as the sacraments with “subjective means and exciting impressions”. When describing revivalism (discussed under the rubric of Methodism) for his native German audience, he said

“In worship, Methodism is not satisfied with the usual divinely ordained means of grace. It really little understands the use of the Sacraments, though it adheres traditionally to infant baptism, and four times a year celebrates the Lord’s Supper, as a simple commemoration. It has far more confidence in subjective means and exciting impressions, than in the more quiet and unobserved but surer work of the old church system of educational religion.”

It was this “unchurchly” strain of the revivalist movement that formed the staple of the John Williamson Nevin’s devastating critique, The Anxious Bench. Written in 1843, the same year he was joined at Mercersburg by Philip Schaff, Nevin hoped the book would halt the influx of the New Measures into the German Reformed Church, into which he converted upon his arrival at the seminary.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

From the Enlightenment to the Sexual Revolution

Last year I wrote a 6-part series on gender, morality and modesty seeking to defend Biblical morality by showing the consequences of the alternative. While this is nothing new in itself, I approached the problem from an original angle. Rather than simply lamenting how bad things have become in our society, I tried to show that the results of the sexual revolution have actually been antithetic to its own goals.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Architecture is theology

In the lively conversation that followed on the heals of a blog post on a friend's blog, Perry Robinson made an observation which struck me as particularly insightful, not least after my earlier comments on Gnosticism in the church. "Architecture" he said, "is theology and mystagogy. I can walk into a given church and tell you what they believe usually without knowing the tradition 9 times out of ten. With modern evangelicals the lesson is simple-God is everywhere in general and no where in particular - ecclesial docetism as it were."

Is he right about this? Visit my facebook page to discuss it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Being Joyful in the Midst of Suffering

Next Saturday marks the 66th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death. As we approach the anniversary of his death, there are many lessons we can be meditating on from his life and thought. He showed us how to be the church, what it meant to lay down one’s life for his friends, and how to fight against evil. Moreover, he taught us to count the cost of discipleship, rejecting the compromised religion he called “cheap grace.”

But there are two related lessons from Bonhoeffer’s life that have been particularly impressed upon me as we approach the anniversary of his death: first, having a constant attitude of gratefulness and, second, being joyful in the midst of suffering.

Keep reading...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The origins of "Secularism"

In my article at the Alfred the Great Society titled "From Revivalism to Secularism (Evangelicalism and Secularism part 3)", I observed how American evangelicals in the 19th century because to see culture as an autonomous organism independent of any religious moorings. It is in this sense that the term “secular” must be understood within its 19th century context. American culture in the first half of the 19th century was not ‘secularized’ because of any insurgent atheism, humanism or (at least not initially) theological liberalism. Rather, culture became secularized by default as soon as Americans embraced the unconscious dualism inherent in the false disjunction between Christ and culture. The overriding assumption came to be that culture and the church were not merely distinguishable, but absolutely divisible entities.  Culture was the domain of the secular realm while the church was the domain of the spiritual realm. A completely spiritualized church became a socially irrelevant church. To read more about this process, visit the following three articles:

Friday, April 01, 2011

Questions about Saint Irenaeus and Apostolic Succession

Between now and June 24 I am finished up a book for Canon Press about different heroes of the faith. The publishers kindly gave me an extra year to allow me time to add some chapters about bad guys, so the good guys no longer have a monopoly on my time.

This last week I've been fine-tuning my chapter on Saint Irenaeus. When I wrote the first draft of the chapter I didn't have enough time to read all the primary sources so I relied on the first volume N.R. Needham's book 200 Years of Christ's Power to help with research. Speaking about Irenaeus' view of apostolic succession, Needham contrasted his formulation of this doctrine with later formulations, pointing out that "In Irenaeus, however, it was more a case of the bishop deriving his importance from belonging to an apostolic church, rather than a church being a true church because it had an apostolic bishop."
Since a colleague I used to teach with once discovered an error in Needham’s history, I thought that it might be a good idea to check to see if he was correct about Irenaeus before my manuscript goes to print. So this week I borrowed Irenaeus’ Against Heresies from my pastor with these two questions in mind:
Question #1:    Is it correct that Irenaeus taught that a bishop derived his importance from belonging to an apostolic church?
Question #2:    If the answer to question #1 is affirmative, then how did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?
As a good protestant, I had always assumed that the answer to question #2 is that the criteria for  determining if a church is truly apostolic is to look at the doctrine.

The "Double-Truth: Universe Part 2

This post is a follow-on from my earlier post, The Double Truth Universe Part 1. Both posts are extracts from my 2009 publication The Twilight of Liberalism in which I discuss the rise of modern secularism.

Gotthold Lessing (1729-81) was an important figure in the German Enlightenment. Lessing is probably best remembered for his play, Nathan the Wise, and the message of religious tolerance that it preaches. However, beneath the message of tolerance is another more subtle message which relates to the concept of truth and faith. To fully appreciate the significance of this, however, some background information about Lessing will be helpful.

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