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Wednesday, April 7, 2010, 1:36 PM
Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short one act play about Jesus. Very few people know about it. The title is Today is Friday.
The play opens with three Roman soldiers are in a bar drinking away the stresses of a long, brutal day of crucifixion.
The third soldier is sick and rueful. He complains about something being wrong with his stomach. It is clear something has gotten to him.
The second soldier tries to make him feel better by minimizing what has happened and by running down the victim as nobody special.
But the first soldier refuses to go along. The second soldier mocks the crucified man by saying it was obvious he was a poser because he couldn’t come down off the cross. But the first says, “He didn’t want to come down from the cross. It wasn’t his play.” The first soldier goes on to recount in a somewhat tragic and admiring fashion, “He was pretty good in there today.”
In Hemingway’s vision, Jesus is the bad conscience of the world, the mistreated and martyred man of peace, but not necessarily its savior. There is no hope in these men drinking to get rid of their ugly memories after a day of torture.
The haunting and memorable line is repeated throughout the scene, “He was pretty good in there today.”
Hemingway only grasped part of the picture.
Let’s turn to Frederick Buechner, the novelist, preacher, and memoirist. Buechner once had a conversation with his aging mother in her later years in which she asked him, “Do you really think anything happens after you die?” He was surprised because she usually didn’t want to talk about death. He responded loudly, against her usual deafness, “YES.” He said he believed, “SOMETHING HAPPENS.”
Buechner ended up writing his mother a letter because he didn’t feel he could get what he wanted to say past her deafness and general fear of discussing spiritual matters. In his letter he reasoned with her about the mind of God and our intuitions about eternity, but the key point he made was “I believe that what happens to us after we die is that we aren’t dead forever because Jesus said so.”
Jesus said so.
Now, why did a learned and sophisticated man like Frederick Buechner think that would matter?
Jesus said so. Who is this Jesus?
Look at The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 8 starting at verse 27:
27 Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”
29And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”
“And who do you say that I am?”
THAT is the question.
What makes the Christian faith different is the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is the reason it matters what Jesus says about life and death. The resurrection is the reason martyrs endure.
Let’s examine the way it is presented by Paul as he speaks to the Athenian philosophers at Mars Hill where he made a spectacular entrance into their debating society. We all remember how he takes note of their statue to an unknown god and how he describes the true God, not made by human hands or living in a temple. It is less common to recall the way Paul finishes in Acts Chapter 17.
30″Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Bolding added by me.)
The reason the church persisted under persecution and attempts at outright extermination is that it was built upon a claim of historical fact. The tomb was empty and many people saw Jesus after he was supposed to already be moldering in the crypt.
Several decades ago, two astronomers using a radio telescope heard a sound in the background that they couldn’t get rid of. Eventually, they came around to theorizing that the sound was the reverberating echo of the Big Bang, the massive explosion associated with the creation of the universe. Think about that. The moment of creation still with us even now. A sound so incomprehensively powerful that it continues to be heard.
The resurrection of Christ is like that. It is the biggest event of all human history and the booming power of it echoes throughout our civilization. Everything changed. Everything is still changing. The kingdom of Christ lies before us. And the question remains: And who do you say that I am?
Thursday, March 11, 2010, 12:01 PM
Yesterday at HBU we hosted Daniel Cardinal DiNardo as our guest for convocation. Our director for the school of theology, David Capes, suggested the event after having heard the cardinal speak on a prior occasion. I honestly had no idea what to expect.
Cardinal DiNardo asked about any themes we might have for convocation this year and we provided him with John 14:6, which reads, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
He chose to make that verse the basis of his presentation. I must tell you that his exposition of the gospel of John would have satisfied any Protestant I know. It was relentlessly scriptural and he clearly had mastery of his subject. He spoke comfortably from notes in a way that had the audience on the edge of their seats. There are days when you have to keep after students to leave their phones alone while a speaker is talking, but this was not one of them. Afterwards, many students lined up to speak with him. You can watch his presentation here.
I know there is a distance between catholics and protestants and that it is substantial, but listening to this cardinal preach has bolstered my confidence in the eventual unity of the church.
And please do not assume that I am saying it will occur because we simply concede. I am not suggesting that at all.
Thursday, March 4, 2010, 2:12 PM
Though this news story from South Carolina doesn’t seem to approve of the recent action of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to remove Erskine College’s current board of trustees, I suspect it may be a healthy development. A big part of the reason for the secularization of higher education in America is that church denominations allowed themselves to be fooled into believing their schools were still Christian right up to the point when the faith identity was irretrievably lost.
The story quotes faculty members who worry that academic freedom is going to be lost and that academic excellence will go with it, but the concept is famously elastic depending on who it is who wants the academic freedom and how they plan to use it. Certainly, it would be foolish for a church to run a university happy with the thought that professors are being hired who don’t care much for — you know — the actual Christian mission.
I don’t know if the facts on the ground support my reading of events, but the sheer precedent the ARPC is setting seems like a good one. Denominations should pay a lot of attention to what they are supporting in their colleges and universities. At a minimum, they should expect to see the faith treated as a relevant and vital part of the enterprise rather than as an accessory.
Friday, February 26, 2010, 11:36 AM
Perhaps a better title would be something like Don’t Allow the Crusades to be Thoughtlessly Added to a Parade of Christian Horribles without Knowing More about It, but I wanted to get your attention.
Rodney Stark’s God’s Batallions is an outstanding book designed to help the educated reader (not only the academic reader) understand the Crusades. You know the routine. You want to talk about Christianity and the village atheist wonders just how you are getting past the horrors of the Crusades and the Inquisition. This book answers the question with regard to the Crusades. Stark brilliantly explains how the Crusades started, what happened in the course of events, and why they finally ended. All in all, the western church comes off pretty sympathetically. Readers who know Stark find it easy to trust him because he always questions excessive claims and makes sure to back his own assertions up with data.
What becomes clear is that the Crusades failed for three reasons.
First, despite the fact that the westerners regularly decimated their Muslim rivals in combat thanks to superior tactics and technology, they were always on the wrong end of a numbers game. The western armies arrived in the Holy Land already diminished from disease and harrying attacks along the way. They never had large enough armies to begin with. And whenever they secured their objectives, a substantial number of troops and/or nobles would return home leaving ridiculously small numbers to hold on, which amazingly, they did for decades at a time.
Second, Crusading was expensive. Although it has been suggested the Crusades were about wealth, nobles didn’t get rich on them. They borrowed, scraped, and imposed heavy taxes just to be able to afford equipping, paying, and feeding their armies. When they captured an area, the land was not revenue-producing in the same way their European farm land was.
Third, the Byzantines never came through with the help they promised. Crusaders regularly expected help from the Comnenus family of rulers which began the Crusades by appealing to the pope for help. But the help was virtually never forthcoming. Had the Byzantine empire allied itself with the Crusaders, the Holy Land might still be in Christian hands today.
Read for yourself. I found the book highly enjoyable. Rodney Stark has reached the point to which many academics aspire. He writes about things that interest him for a mass audience with the aid of a major publishing company (Harper). And the books come to us rather than sitting staidly in university libraries.
Friday, February 19, 2010, 10:18 AM
Francis Beckwith is back with another book. He has written Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft.
I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, but this may be the book people have been asking me for as a follow-up to The End of Secularism.
I made the negative case against secularism and here Beckwith makes the positive case for a Christian politics. Amazingly, the books are priced within a penny of each other on Amazon. Bundle us up!
In seriousness, I am really looking forward to reading this book. I profited immensely from being Francis Beckwith’s graduate student years ago and have been somewhat awestruck by a number of his previous works. Any Christian involved in politics as a citizen, candidate, critic, or office-holder would benefit from reading him. Certainly, the quality of our discourse would improve as a result.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 11:22 AM
Ken Starr is going to be named the new president of Baylor University. Already, there have been rumblings. Here in Houston, where I live, the pastor of Ecclesia church Chris Seay, who is a well known author, has already suggested people should join him in sending a statement to the Board of Regents expressing concern. When I sent him a message via twitter, his opposition appeared less than sinister. He was just surprised to get what he viewed as a conservative political operative choice rather than a “Billy Graham” style choice.
I think this kind of protest misunderstands Kenneth Starr. Because he conducted the investigation which led to President Clinton’s impeachment, Starr became the focus of intense media scrutiny and was viewed as some kind of attack dog for the Republican Party. That sort of view does not convey a real sense of who Ken Starr is or has been.
Of course, Starr has led the school of law and public policy at Pepperdine University for several years now. In the past, Pepperdine has made its commitment to the integration of faith and learning clear and they are indisputably one of the finest Christian universities in the nation. They are one of the finest universities period. (Mr. Starr may be excited about the simpler task of paying academics in Waco versus finding a way to pay them adequately so that they can find a home in Malibu!)
In addition, before the Clinton-Lewinsky mess — which I believe he took on as a public servant and not as a hack — Ken Starr was on the short list for the United States Supreme Court. He is extraordinarily well-regarded in the legal community and occupies a place in the very highest level of practitioners. Although Baylor has an outstanding law school, Starr will immediately become the best known and most distinguished lawyer at the university.
Overall, I have little doubt that Starr will bring a new level of recognition to Baylor which has been rising fast. Anyone who visits the campus will be amazed at how beautiful it is today and what a wonderful environment it has become for students and professors. Certainly, there are still tensions. Baylor continues to be a school in transition and that means there are different camps of people hired in different periods. But if ANYONE can withstand the politics of Baylor University, I would suggest it is Kenneth Starr. He handled himself with grace and dignity throughout a difficult time in the spotlight in the 1990′s. Notably, the worst thing that anyone could find to say about him was that he enjoyed singing hymns to himself. Members of the media found that habit to be extremely odd.
One more question, which is significant, has to do with Starr’s long affiliation with the Church of Christ. Baylor’s last president, John Lilley, had been a Presbyterian for many years and then returned to the Baptist church for Baylor. (If Paris was worth a mass, what is Waco worth?) Starr has agreed to join the Baptist church because the president of the university is required to be Baptist. The question is whether Baylor has given up on true Baptist leadership since the last two presidents have had to “convert” in a manner of speaking. I am unable to come up with a good answer here. I suspect that the best long time Baptist candidates were already committed to their own projects and could not leave.
I wish Mr. Starr the very best and hope he will find good advisers in the provost’s office to continue driving forward on the integration of faith and learning at Baylor. A great deal will depend on what kind of leadership he chooses on the academic side of the university.
(Disclosure: The very first magazine item I ever had published was a letter to World Magazine defending one Kenneth Starr from the slings and arrows of elite opinion.)
Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 2:54 PM
Houston Baptist University has an institutional “preamble” which sets the tone for everything we do. I think it is quite good and has served us well. We do have a variety of Christians working at the university (including Catholics). All must affirm the preamble. Here it is:
Nature of the Institution
The Preamble to the University By-Laws as stated below describes the distinctive nature of the institution.
The Houston Baptist University is a Christian liberal arts university dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives, and the perpetuation of growth in Christian ideals. Founded under the providence of God and with the conviction that there is a need for a university in this community that will train the minds, develop the moral character and enrich the spiritual lives of all people who may come within the ambit of its influence, HOUSTON BAPTIST UNIVERSITY shall stand as a witness for Jesus Christ expressed directly through its administration, faculty and students. To assure the perpetuation of these basic concepts of its founders, it is resolved that all those who become associated with Houston Baptist University as a trustee, officer, member of the faculty or of the staff, and who perform work connected with the educational activities of the University, must believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, that man was directly created by God, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, as the Son of God, that He died for the sins of all men and thereafter arose from the grave, that by repentance and the acceptance of and belief in Him, by the grace of God, the individual is saved from eternal damnation and receives eternal life in the presence of God; and it is further resolved that the ultimate teachings in this University shall never be inconsistent with the above principles.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 9:52 AM
The Evangel blog has had its share of controversy, especially controversy over the divide between catholics and protestants. Let me add fuel to the fire by noting that Houston Baptist University will be hosting Archbishop Charles Chaput on the evening of March 1. We are hosting this event with the help of the John Paul II Center at the University of St. Thomas. To my knowledge, this is the first coordinated activity between the two universities. Chaput is well known for his Doubleday book Render Unto Caesar.
HBU president Robert Sloan will offer substantive remarks as part of his extended introduction for Archbishop Chaput. I think this event promises to be one of the most memorable happenings in the history of the university during our 50th year.
Go here to get details and to RSVP for the event. It’s free, but we need a good count.
Saturday, January 30, 2010, 11:04 AM
I will preface my remarks by saying that I own a first generation Kindle. It was given to me by a friend who quickly purchased the second generation. The Kindle is a very good device for pure reading. It is possible to forget you are using a device rather than reading a book. If you are a purely recreational reader, this device is all you need. It will especially shine for the purposes of travel. You will have all the books you want and none of the strain on your carry-on bag.
For me, unfortunately, this is not enough.
I need the following features added to my electronic reader:
- An option to view a books pages just as they are in the actual book. As an academic and commentator, I need to be able to demonstrate exactly where I got a fact or idea. That means I need to be able to refer to a page number, not some electronic location. This problem could be conquered either by making books available as pdfs with a screen large enough to comfortably display them or the software could insert pagination throughout the text the same way Lexis-Nexis does. Either would work.
- The ability to mark and highlight the text. The Kindle lets me highlight portions of a text and even to view them as a group. However, I cannot easily track the page number from which the highlights came. And I cannot do anything other than highlighting. I need to be able to write in margins, bracket, underline, etc. Call it marginalia. I need to be able to do that. It would be even better if I could then access all the markings I did and have ready access to the page numbers from which they came. A good stylus would be necessary. I can’t do it all with fingerpainting.
- I’m getting greedy now. But how great would it be if I could choose portions of a text to email to a friend or to post to a blog?
- A notepad that could be used like evernote or microsoft note where I could write outlines or other notes in parallel to the books and articles I am reading.
Here are the features I don’t need:
- Wi-fi is a plus, but not essential. I could prepare all my tasks and then connect to a computer to do the things that require a connection.
- I do not need color e-ink. The black and gray works pretty well. If color e-ink costs me any features from above, then I don’t want it. And really, I’d rather just have black and white rather than black and gray. Color is not necessarily a big add for people who work with documents.
I very much hope some of the manufacturers and designers will read this post and consider coming up with a version that can do these things. There is a big market among academics, graduate students, college students, and authors for the device that works in this way. For me, the iPad goes far astray of what I’m seeking. Kindle is closer, but not close enough.
Friday, January 22, 2010, 5:42 PM
My son, Andrew, is seven, but he is a very good little reader. I may have mentioned before that in my despair at the amount of effort he was investing in reading about Pokemon, I put him on to Narnia. Since that time, I asked on this site and others for books I should encourage him to read. A number of people mentioned the books about Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Andrew read The Lightning Thief and then The Sea of Monsters.
Naturally, Andrew began talking about the books and so I decided to read them just to make sure they were okay and to be able to carry on a conversation with him about this new world of imagination. The Lightning Thief held my attention so well I found myself looking forward to lunchtime at work just so I could sit down with the book. I am now working on The Sea of Monsters.
I have been thinking about how much I have enjoyed these books. Consider the number of adults who read things like Percy Jackson or Harry Potter or Twilight. Why do so many adults like to read young adult fiction? I think I have the answer. I think we like to read it because it has limits. Young adult fiction has be judicious in the amount of sex and violence it contains. The descriptions can’t be quite as graphic or gratuitous. That means in order for a story to be successful, it really has to be good. A story has to have merit instead of relying on titillation of one kind or the other to succeed.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 6:04 PM
The Big Hollywood blogger and actor Adam Baldwin, recently of the television series Chuck and Firefly, has taken up his virtual pen to defend Britt Hume from those who have criticized him for suggesting that Tiger Woods should consider Christianity in his time of crisis. Hume made the statement on Fox News Sunday, thus prompting outrage from secularists who find such an offering offensive and irrelevant.
Baldwin scores several times in his blog piece. Here is the foundation:
As an avid golfer, Christian man, and therefore a witness to the historic fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mr. Hume clearly offered his message in good faith with honest concern for both Tiger’s future and for that of his family, friends, fans and business associates.
Look carefully at what Baldwin has written. Britt Hume believes Christianity is true and is based on an actual historical event. He is not adverting to some mystery religion (reach for the seventh level, Tiger), but is instead giving advice every bit as practical, or perhaps more so, than urging Mr. Woods to seek marital counseling or to find a good attorney.
This is what secularists simply do not understand. They think Christianity is “inaccessible” to others. It is not. You can accept it or reject it, but there is no reason for confusion. The basis of the faith is quite clear. Either you accept the evidence that the resurrection of Christ actually occurred in time and space or you do not. In no case should you accuse the Christian of hitting you with a bunch of magical mysteriousness that you cannot possibly understand.
You should really consider reading the entire post. Baldwin completely exposes the inappropriateness and unfairness of the comparisons of sincere Christianity to Jihad and deftly analyzes the pretensions of secularism. I could try to summarize, but would just end up reproducing his essay.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010, 4:03 PM
From Francis Canavan’s The Pluralist Game:
If we take the principles of liberal individualism as axiomatic, we find it possible to think of the fetus and the woman as the parties of the first and second part arguing over their respective rights. We are then able to blind ourselves to the natural fact that they are related as mother and child and that the child is in the only natural place for him to be, his mother’s womb (italics added).
Friday, December 18, 2009, 12:32 PM
The Wall St. Journal has an article up on the topic of evangelicals and intellectuals. Now, this would normally interest me in and of itself, but the great part is that the piece mentions Houston Baptist University’s journal The City.
We founded the journal as something of an evangelical First Things a couple of years ago and the response has been fantastic throughout.
Here’s a clip from the article:
At this relatively early stage, most of the examination takes place not in the public square but on the campuses of evangelical colleges and in Christian publications, and much of the discussion is about the nature of the evangelical mind. This is seen most clearly in Houston Baptist University’s new publication The City. Its winter 2008 issue featured an essay by a young evangelical writer named Matthew Lee Anderson titled “The New Evangelical Scandal.” Mr. Anderson suggests that though new evangelicals are marked by a shift away from the ethos of their parents’ generation—including moralism, political partisanship and anti-intellectualism—the change is not as drastic as some have come to think and is actually just “version 2.0 of the seeker-sensitive movement: it’s trendier, better dressed, and more open to conversation.” The scandal, Mr. Anderson suggests, is that the perceived shift occurring among younger evangelicals is more a matter of expression than substance.
Friday, December 18, 2009, 10:52 AM
Okay, I’ve pelted you with all manner of material in which I am interviewed about my book by various professional Christian types. How about one with a website that has a Wall Street and Washington, D.C. focus?
My friend Ben Domenech and I founded The City together at Houston Baptist University. He continues to be the dominant force in the production of that journal and has gone on to found a fantastic website on politics and finance called The New Ledger. I feel very honored that Ben has seen fit to post an interview with me about the book there. And like many conversations between old friends, this one makes for good listening.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009, 2:21 PM
C.S. Lewis College Buys Campus
The dream begins. I visited with the people behind this recently and am extremely excited. Wonderful, raving, gigantic thanks to the Hobby Lobby people for backing the great men and women of the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
Read more here. Be sure to watch the video, too.
This is very, very good. I am so thankful for the dreamers and the workers who make wonderful projects like this into realities.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 8:38 PM
The well-known evangelical theologian and historian John Stackhouse has added his name to the ranks of Christians who don’t find much to like about the Manhattan Declaration. There is a twist in this case, though. He isn’t complaining about the alliance between evangelicals and Catholics, for example. (Thank you, Lord.)
However, one of Dr. Stackhouse’s major objections is equally perplexing. While he declares himself to be pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, he believes the call to enshrine those positions in the law is “philosophically and politically incoherent” if one is simultaneously calling for religious liberty (which the signers of the Manhattan Declaration do).
Before writing those words, Stackhouse might at least have thought a few moments about who we’re talking about. Robert George is one of the main movers and shakers on this document. And he happens to be a very important political philosopher in the American academy.
Now, disagreeing with Robert George is never evidence that one is wrong. So what if Prof. George is a political philosopher of the top rank? He certainly could be guilty of holding a “philosophically and politically incoherent” view on something. Surely, he could. And perhaps Dr. Stackhouse would be the guy with the right cut in his jib to effectively point that out.
But let’s consider the claim. Does calling for religious liberty mean that one is disqualified from simultaneously attempting to make abortion illegal (to use one of his examples)?
I don’t think so. Let’s take the shortest route to dealing with this claim.
If embracing religious liberty means that we should never attempt to embody moral propositions into the law, then we should not embody religious liberty in the law because it is a moral proposition. A philosophy that leads to THAT result is incoherent. The person who argues for religious liberty AND for other moral propositions in the law is on pretty sound footing in the vast majority of instances.
But if that seems like a cheap shot, we can go further. Why do we value religious liberty? We value religious liberty because we believe human beings possess an inherent dignity that entitles them to certain rights. For a very large number of people, quite likely an absolute majority, our rights come from God. Because God gives us certain rights, it is not the place of the state to abrogate them. But regardless of whether we claim our rights come from God, we have embraced religious liberty as a right. It is in tension with other rights. It is not a trump card. We do not accept any religious claim that would require freedom to kill another human being, for example.
Another right that we believe human beings have is the right to life. It is very easy and requires no recourse to scripture to demonstrate that the unborn child is, indeed, a human being. Given what I’ve said so far, is it at all difficult to understand that one could say religious liberty does not entail a right to be free from legal consequences for killing an unborn child?
No, it isn’t difficult. There is no incoherency in arguing for both religious liberty and for the legal right to life of an unborn child.
Friday, December 4, 2009, 2:37 PM
I recently gave an interview to the Georgia Family Council (where I worked as a younger fellow) about my book for their website. Here is an excerpt I think might interest readers:
What made you decide to write your book The End of Secularism?
I wrote this book for a few reasons. I detected that the moment might be right for someone to lay out a very rigorous critique of secularism. While it was once plausible to people that secularism might be a good, neutral solution to the “problem” of religious difference, it is more difficult to believe the same today. Secularists embrace a competing orthodoxy and they pursue the fulfillment of it. They like to think of themselves as referees, but they are actually just another team on the field.
In addition, I felt the need to help secularists and Christians to get a better handle on what secularism is and why it is an inferior solution to the separation of church and state rightly understood. We don’t need to evict religion from the public square. We do need to keep the church financially independent of the state — primarily for the good of the church, which I demonstrate through the example of Sweden — but we don’t need to politely excuse our religious beliefs and thoughts when it comes to public debate over values. Religion matters in politics. You can’t get away from it and bad things happen when you try. The Christian faith has been and continues to be hugely influential in encouraging many of the best things about our culture. Christianity is part of why we care about things like liberty, equality, mercy, and the sanctity of life.
Explain what you mean by “secularism” and how has it affected our culture?
The word secular once had a perfectly good meaning. It meant “in the world.” So, by that understanding, the Catholic Church even had secular clergy. But we have transformed the old meaning of “secular” to a new conception which requires that religion retire from the public square. In essence, the idea is that we will all be better off if religion is private, like a hobby. The problem, especially for Christians, is that we believe the resurrection of Christ is a real event in time and space and that if that is true, then it has the potential to affect the way we look at almost everything. And I would argue that influence has been dramatically for the good.
To the extent we embrace secularism, and almost all of us do to some degree, we focus more on material things because that represents reality to us. In America, our materialism mostly manifests as consumeristic and hedonistic pursuits.
Does secularism have an effect on how society views marriage and family
Unquestionably. If you buy into a purely secular view, marriage is nothing special. It is merely a contract (and not a particularly strong one) that people undergo when they decide to pursue life together for a while. While it can be inconvenient and messy to dissolve that contract, nothing tragic has happened. There has been no violation of any larger law. God’s conception of marriage doesn’t enter in. In fact, maybe marriage is just a cultural artifact that an enlightened, secular government merely needs to tolerate until it can be transitioned away.
Of course, we have seen this kind of change in the way we view marriage. It’s not just the effort to expand the meaning of marriage. The larger problem is that the state no longer values marriage as it once did. There is no bias toward keeping the family together. We no longer have the same concern for how divorce will affect the well-being of children, this despite the wealth of social science evidence chronicling the negative impact.
On the other hand, if you believe marriage represents a special relationship, one ordained by God, then you have a real reason, both as an individual and as a citizen in a political community, to seek to preserve it. This view, long the dominant one in western civilization, reinforces our best instincts about the family. It also happens to be much more humane to children and promotes human flourishing.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 5:17 PM
My son, Andrew (age 7) has been reading way too much Pokemon and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The result has been an infusion of ideas and habits that aren’t necessarily all that helpful from a behavioral perspective.
Suddenly, I realized that maybe I, the scholar-father, should make sure he reads something GOOD. Brilliant, I know.
So, last night I introduced him to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I had him read the first chapter on his own. He liked it and accurately reported back what happened. I laid in bed with him and read the next couple of chapters. I could tell he liked it because he occasionally finished a sentence ahead of me in a voice of wonderment.
Around 8 pm, I left him in bed with his lamp on and a bookmark in the book (he doesn’t tolerate folded corners like his old man).
When I checked on him before retiring myself around 11 pm, I could tell he wasn’t really asleep. He knew that I knew and looked at me.
“Andrew, have you been up reading all this time?”
“I finished it.”
I asked him what character he liked the best. OS-LAHN, he enunciated.
Daddy couldn’t resist rubbing the secret late night reader on the head and feeling rather triumphant as he walked out the door.
Monday, November 30, 2009, 1:57 PM
I know a little boy who has developed some bad habits by reading funny books his father got him without thinking about the consequences of said little boy emulating the behavior of the main character.
We don’t need to go into who the boy is or who his father is. Let’s just say I have a friend!
I would very much like to buy this little boy some books featuring characters who are admirable and who would be great for him to emulate. Any good recommendations?
Sunday, November 29, 2009, 11:25 PM
Heckuva post, Brownie!
Seriously, I’m glad you read the book so I don’t have to.
I am with you in thinking that Sarah Palin is an amazing political talent. That woman can deliver a speech as well as anybody out there. Personally, I thought her speeches were better and more powerful than Mr. Obama’s.
But I do fear that she lacks the necessary fire in the belly to wonkify herself.
I remember a speaker at the Philadelphia Society putting his finger on the greatness of Reagan and the duplicability of it. He read. He studied. He knew relevant facts. Combine those things with political talent and you can go very far.
We are still waiting for her to show that kind of determination. I’m rooting for her. I hope she will do it.
Thursday, November 26, 2009, 10:03 AM
I had to write a book to get into Christianity Today. Matthew Lee Anderson got in for his awesome blogging! Pick up the December 2009 CT for a full page profile on young Mr. Anderson.
I’m particularly pleased to see the magazine take notice of his outstanding work in HBU’s journal of Christian thought, The City. You can read his big The City article here.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 4:14 PM
I posted the letter to the Financial Times where a college professor from India decried monotheism and declared the benevolent goodness of polytheism and its modern ally, secularism. The letter struck me as provocative and worth mentioning in its own right.
But now I think I see a connection.
Polytheism, of course, was the norm in the Roman Empire. The Empire managed its many gods by united everyone in a common worship of the emperor. Worship as many gods as you like as long as you also worship the apotheosis of the state.
Secularism is, indeed, like polytheism in this sense. Have whatever religious sensibility you like as long as you recognize that your ultimate allegiance is to the secular state which is representative of the real world. Don’t ever let your religion get between you and the state. Keep it private. Keep it in hobby status.
Score one for the man from India.
When it comes to this issue, I unapologetically encourage you to read The End of Secularism. The more Christians (especially those of a pietistic bent who like to privatize their faith) who read it and understand it, the better equipped we will be to confront the creeping return of the rainbow assortment of gods frolicking beneath the banner of a state happy to tolerate them because they don’t count for much in the end.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 3:39 PM
I love the television show Heroes on NBC. My wife and I got addicted to the program via Netflix and have made it appointment viewing ever since. Lately, the show, which began with straightforward characters and easily understandable models of nobility, has become more complicated.
Noah, a father, has been divorced by his wife. She has taken up with another man. Noah invites his daughter, his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and a near flame from his previous job to his apartment, for Thanksgiving. When his daughter questions the arrangement, Noah brushes it off by saying, “We’re a complex, modern family and we just have to deal with it.”
Predictably, the Thanksgiving meal doesn’t go very smoothly. Attempting to save the situation, the ex-wife’s boyfriends suggests they all go around the table saying what they are thankful for.
The suggestion prompted me to think. What am I thankful for? I knew the answer immediately. I’m thankful my parents grew up in a smaller town society that made divorce unthinkable. I’m thankful they never put me through the pain of trying to learn to accept “Mom’s boyfriend” or “Dad’s new, young wife.”
My folks fought quite a bit when I was a kid. But they always worked it out. And now, after more than four decades of marriage, they are closer than ever. I can see it. And even at age 39, well beyond the time when I need them to take care of me, I am immensely grateful that they are there for me together. I am so grateful to have a place to go home to where I can rediscover the family where I grew up and where I can take my children so they can experience uncomplicated grandparents still in their original pairing.
This is not intended as a slam on anyone. I know our culture has changed and that the family has indeed become quite a bit more flexible. It is hard to blame anyone when the ambient culture says it is okay and that you should abandon commitments that just don’t seem to be working.
But what I do hope to do is to inspire readers who have yet to be married or who are married to hold tight to the commitments they make. When you form a family, form it on a strong foundation. Give your children or your children yet to come the same blessing I have enjoyed. My mother and father are together. They have been for my entire life. It is immensely comforting. And I am thankful for it.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009, 4:19 PM
A colleague offered me the following piece of correspondence from the Financial Times. It is a letter written by Dr. Gautam Pingle, who serves as a dean with the College of India. He writes:
[unimportant first para deleted] Intolerance bred by the monotheism of the People of the Book — mostly Christian and Muslim — in their mutual and conflicting wars and quest for world domination embroiled mankind in hatred and maasacres of each other and “the other” over the past 1,700 years. Even today, we see the baleful effects of residual monotheism and its apocalyptic vision.
Fortunately, in some parts of this troubled planet, the polytheistic tendency, with its signal notion encouraging inclusion, seems to be gaining ground and legitimacy — after its long nightmare — in the guise of secularism.
I find it fascinating that this writer equates polytheism with secularism. An interesting thought.
It is provocative enough for me to ask people to read my own in depth investigation of secularism (The End of Secularism) and to encourage my fellow academics, analysts, cultural researchers, etc. to join me in the project of scholarly work about secularism. There is much to do and we only gain in the course of civil confrontation.
Saturday, November 21, 2009, 5:06 PM
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I have been thinking a lot about the way we sell church-related goods and services.
I have been thinking about that and about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and sacrificial animal sellers in the temple.
The marketing inside the church has probably never been more feverish than it is today. Hollywood hires savvy Christian marketers to try to gin up interest in certain films among our demographic. We trademark little phrases for sale to Christians. I recently heard an acquaintance excitedly describe a system for integrating Prayer and Your Priorities. I shall not share the catchy name for this system so as to avoid smearing the person working on it. This results in a marketing platform for an inspirational book, a devotional, a daily planner for the system, calendars, sticky notes, etc. I imagine it will prove attractive for some Christian publishing house.
My question, though, is whether this is a wholesome thing for the church. As the author of a book, though not a super consumer-oriented one, I think about it all the time. For example, if called upon to preach at a local church, should I take along a box of books to sell at the end of the service? Should I even mention the book? Should I ask whoever introduces me to mention the book? Should we sell ANYTHING in the church?
The question is not as easy as it may appear. For example, the market instincts of new publishers spread Martin Luther’s work to a large audience. Without the printing press, Luther probably would have died as just another dissenter. Marketing and the honest profit motive are surely reasons why the Bible is as incredibly widely available as it is.
But the question remains. How far do we go in making a profit from the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t have a good answer. Love to hear from you in the comments.
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