Via the magic of the Internet, comes the knowledge that at least one person, and probably only one person, reads what I write in the town of Stoke-on-Trent, England. I cannot imagine what this reader did to deserve international literary torment, but I appreciate the support. (more…)
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Rochester and his most recent book is "When Athens Met Jerusalem"(IVP, 2009). He is husband of the Fairest Flower in All Christendom and the father of four. He loves Plato, the Packers, and Star Trek.RSS feed for this author
If you were the Jewish girl named Mary, it was about this time of the year that your life changed. Nine months from now it would Christmas, but the pain and party of that blessed day was far away.
Sometime about now if you were Mary, then you had to say “yes” to God.
First the annunciation. Mary said “yes” and God came down and dwelt among us.
Sometime this week Christmas became a certainty, because Mary said “yes.” God takes “no” for an answer, He will allow humans to separate from Him, but He also takes our “yes.”
Eugene Peterson wrote a blurb for Rob Bell’s new book on hell.
His comments in a recent interview are worth noticing, because it points to a problem. He is careful not to agree with Bell, but makes it very hard to disagree with him.
Rob Bell has views that are (at least) similar to those that early founders of Evangelicalism explicitly rejected (as their college creeds indicate). Now the Evangelical founders may have been wrong, but Bell is disagreeing with them at one of the points where they agreed with the vast majority of the Christian tradition.
Rome agrees. Orthodoxy agrees. Evangelicals all agreed that hell was a place of eternal torment. Bell (perhaps?) does not agree. Noticing this shift is not bad manners and disagreement that is not stronger than Bell’s own language (or that of Jesus) can be pretty potent! (more…)
As Sarah Palin jets to India to gain foreign policy credentials, I followed her example by jetting to Canada. This is important, because in our house I make all the Important Decisions such as trade policy toward other nations. Hope decides less important issues such as what we eat, wear, and where we live.
I want to help others called to my key role and so have collected key facts learned on my recent junket. Where is Canada? If one drives north on the I-5 it is the first foreign country one meets. Think Mexico with different beer and fewer peppers in the food. It is easier to get a thing called “ketchup” there than salsa. (more…)
A friend whose birthday fell on 9/11 spent a few years worrying about his parties. Was it in bad taste to party on a day so many were mourning?
Some people are odious by ignoring national or global pain. Other folk are the false messianic types that try to bear the weight of the world’s evils in their bodies. Avoiding both forms of self-centeredness is tricky. (more…)
I owe a great debt to the American Spectator for pointing to me to this story. By itself, it is not worth comment, but it does incarnate a disease of our age: the “brave and compelling book” that is neither brave, important, or much of a book.
Evidently James Frey dares “ignite a firestorm” by publishing a book attacking Jesus. I don’t know what the real James Frey is like and would not judge him if I could. All that is before me is the “James Frey” of the media campaign to sell his self-published book.
That “James Frey” is probably fictive, but there are four things we know about him. (more…)
God be with the men and women of Japan.
A major earthquake in a heavily populated place is bad news. I booted up “The Daily” and as usual it crashed, but not before hearing that there had been disaster someplace.
Hope told me there had been an earthquake in Japan, proving once again that she is better at communicating news than Rupert Murdoch. As a Southern Californian, my first response was, “Does this mean we will have an earthquake here?” The news stations here were alive with the question and the implications regarding the surfing.
And then someone in my twitter feed reminded me.
This story is not about me. That slap in the spiritual face was needed. The men and women of Japan should be my focus not how this story will impact my life.
Another reaction began to spread like a plague of narcissism across my feeds. Atheists questioned the goodness of God. Liberals asked if the Republicans were funding tsunami relief. Conservatives pointed out that you couldn’t count on government to help you in a disaster. Somewhere a bimetallist was ranting about the earthquake and the refusal of the United States government to coin silver at 16 to 1.
This story has nothing to do with my cause. Immediately using a story to make a point about my pet project is the sign of monomania and not a healthy soul.
People are suffering in Japan and it is not about California, American politics, or me. What should I do?
This story matters, but not everything that matters requires a response from me. The notion in a wired world that every issue that crosses my screen requires a personal response is dangerously messianic and surely exhausting.
Jesus made the point that anyone I see is my neighbor, but technology has made that an impossible test. Television shows me too much. Instead, I must give, but give from my limited time and talents to those whose burden I am called to actually bear.
Of course even this post has been about how I should not react to a horrific news story. In other words, my reflection has been internal and not external. This self-absorption is not the examined life of Socrates having more in common with the monologue habits of a bad movie super villain.
Now I will stop writing and reading about what this means and act for others.
I pray for the men and women of Japan and ask God what, if anything, else I should do. I pause briefly to bear what little bit of their burden I can spiritually through prayer. If called to give, I can go here. People are hurting and some are dead.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace.
God and Love
God is Love and a Christian is called to worship God. (I John 4:8) Christians are, therefore, a people who worship at the feet of personal Love. All love springs from the recognition of beauty and the source of this beauty is God.
For a Christian, God is both the source for humans’ love and the ultimate end of that love. In many ways this is like the vision of Diotma in Plato’s Symposium, but because the Good is personal within Christianity, God (or the Good) is not just the Beloved, but can function as a Lover. The Divine Lover does not have to love the cosmos out of need or poverty, because in the Divine Nature there are three persons sharing one essence. God can be His Own Beloved with fecundity, because of this complex nature. The Father can love the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Beloved is different from and yet the same as the Lover.
As the source of beauty only God can love Himself productively, but He does not love Himself alone. God loves within Himself so potently that out of His Love springs forth His creation. Creation is distinct from God, but is the object of His Love, because it is His cosmos. Humankind, the crown of that creation, is especially in His image, because in community humans can become an icon of His Divine Nature.
I can love and even venerate the good in my friend unto to the point of death, because doing so is by divine transference an act of worship to the only God. (more…)
I love the Green Bay Packers and when they won the Super Bowl it made me happy.
This is a hard admission for a college professor to make, because football is not “cool” in the humanities. Baseball is marginally acceptable and the Olympics more so, but the National Football League?
There are good reasons for any thoughtful person to dislike the NFL. It is a business that does not bring out the best in its advertisers, if not its audience. If men were as they are pictured on Super Bowl commercials, the human race would have destroyed itself long ago. The NFL seemed more concerned about one quarterback’s dog fighting than another quarterback’s sorry relationships with women.
Nevertheless, I am Packers fan, even if I know the Packers don’t really love me. They want me to buy product and pay their salaries. I am a consumer of Packer stuff to them.
I know this, but whatever the Packers are and whatever they think of their fan base (and who can know for sure?) does not matter to me. They haven’t gotten rich off the money spent on Packer-products in my house, the advertising has never made me buy a single product, and so in some ways I have used them to give me hundreds of hours of pleasure that cost me nothing over the years.
Just because a pleasure is free, does not make it worth pursuing.
Most justifications for sporting pleasures do not fit my love for the Packers. Though it is a lifetime ambition to go, I have never been to Green Bay Wisconsin so I cannot plead community pride. In fact, my formative school years took place in upstate New York where loving the Green and Gold was odd. I never played the game, so whatever physical exercise gives to a man, watching football on television has never profited me.
And yet I think loving the Packers has done me good. What good?
It’s His party, but you can come if you want to, even if, like a football poseur at a Super Bowl party, you forget the cause of the fun.
Christmas is not for Christians, it is for the Lord Christ, and Jesus is merry. He loves all people, so if you are not a Christian: “Welcome to the party.” God is not insecure, so even Richard Dawkins is welcome to celebrate the feast if he can loosen up enough to forget himself.
A few Christians, the type narrow enough to see down a straw with both eyes, and many non-Christians, trying to live in a Christian culture without noticing, pretend that Christmas is a pagan holiday taken over by Christians. This Dan Brown like history would be fine if true, but it is false. Roman government resented a feast of free people that celebrated a man who refused to make Caesar Lord and aped it. Libertines disliked a feast that wasn’t an orgy, a party sublime without a hangover, and tried to hi-jack it. That they entirely failed to make Christmas less Christian isn’t too sad, because at least they tried to make merry. (more…)
The holiday classic Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as sung by Judy Garland may be the closest thing to refuting words with musical performance ever heard. You don’t have to know anything about Garland’s sad life to hear the pain in her voice.
She may promise we will muddle through somehow and that next year our troubles will be out of view, but her voice is torn and there is every doubt about merriness. Garland had one of those sad lives, made far worse by bad personal decisions, turned into something “great” by Hollywood. This bright, gifted woman was exploited by the entertainment industry, but also chose . . . badly.
When I was a kid, there was a game show called Family Feud in which Richard Dawson, or Newkirk from Hogan’s Heroes suffering a sad fate (I am not sure whom), would kiss the contestants and host the happenings. A big part of his job was to announce in ponderous tones: “Survey says . . .” and if the contestant did not agree with the results of the survey, he was a loser.
Whatever the merits of the gameshow, which has continued a different host, agreeing with a survey has no merit in real life. Most people can be wrong and on some topics most people often are. Surveys might tell us what some people think at the moment, but they cannot tell us what is right or wrong.
Values endure, but fashions change. Recent surveys showing growing numbers of Americans are not that into marriage tell us something interesting about us, but nothing about love and marriage. (more…)
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is sometimes an almost unbearably bad novel, but it keeps selling. I just finished rereading it trying to find what can be redeemed from it beyond the obvious fact that it opposes the evil of collectivism. I need more because it is easy to find a more concise and interesting hatred of socialism in the scouring of the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Any book which has moved so many to do good must have some of God’s image in it.
And yet the book reminds of the worst sort of “Christian” novel where the story is just a disguise for advocacy of a point of view. An idea centered novel can work, I think Chesterton does it well and Lewis in That Hideous Strength fairly well, but it needs an interesting plot, some mystery, or characters about whom a reader can care. Atlas Shrugged has the worst characters I have found in a “famous’ novel. It has no discernible plot and it moves forward ponderously. The “love scenes” are embarrassing but not in a sexy way unless violence without romance is your idea of hot.
There is no place in a quick review to argue against Rand’s philosophy, but then she doesn’t argue either. She asserts when she should argue and substitutes anecdotes for demonstrations. Some of her views of the poor are ugly enough to make Jim Wallace almost appealing.
The day a man reads his last new Sherlock Holmes mystery is a sad one. The stories decline in quality, but to the very last retain some echo of what made the early tales classics of the detective genre.
The best Holmes can be reread, but still a man likes to have something new to read during his free reading time. Finding Freeman Austin is Doyle fan-fiction from Doyle’s own time.
Freeman R. Austin is no Arthur Conan Doyle, but he does give you a bit of an Edwardian fix . . . even his stories written after the Edwardian era. His hero, Dr. Thorndyke, is very much like Holmes right up to having an everyone medico as a sidekick. Thorndyke is Holmes with a better eduction, but less flair.
The Book of Proverbs says I should look after my flocks, because if I do my goats will take care of me in an economic time of trouble.
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls. (Proverbs 27:23-27)
If I take the Bible seriously, should I go buy goats?
No, because I take the Bible seriously, I will not go buy goats.
The path to liberalism is not paved with the taking the Bible in context. Instead, we take the Bible literally, when we take it in a literary manner. Genre matters. The idea that one can find science in the Psalms is foolish, because the Psalms are poetry and not science. (more…)
Pity the person who looks at the night sky and sees only hot glowing balls of gas. If he starts to speak, you are likely to get a great deal of hot air, but little romantic glow. Knowing the composition of a thing is good, but it is at least as good to know what a thing is to mankind.
Stars are more than the sum of their parts and those who do not understand this live in a world too simple. Pity is the best response to someone who has been cheated out of wonder by seeing only one part of the world. This is the Gradgrind soul that discusses only astronomy when looking at the stars on a beach, but is tone-deaf to poetry.
And so there is a temptation to reject the Gradgrind soul by falling in love with mystery, but that is the road to sheer weirdness. The Gradgrind soul only wishes to colonize the stars, but the Weirdling soul worships them.
Gradgrind knows a few things, but understands nothing. The Weirdling tries to understand by knowing nothing.
Consider the polar bear.
Really it is quite impossible not to do so, since environmental evangelism is all about us. That this is so is one of the best things about contemporary culture. As a Tolkien-nerd, I have always favored the Ents over Saruman.
Traditionalists and liberals may disagree about how to do it, but we agree that being green is good. Phillip Johnson, the Berkeley law professor and gadfly, once noted that the best thing about community radicalism is that it had preserved Berkeley untouched in a 1950′s time warp.
While the means were regrettable, some of the ends were magnificent. Every year my family celebrates the Fourth of July in the all American city of Berkeley with buildings that the Cleavers would recognize and sidewalk hippies the Partridge Family would adore.
It is the West Coast version of Williamsburg.
Traditional Christians know that God’s creation is good and is designed with great wisdom. Fallen men and women hesitate over great changes to Creation. Our first rule as stewards of that Creation, given our vanity, is to first do no harm.
Starting something new is hard, but it is especially hard if what you are doing is unprecedented.
A business proves this truth.
Founding Federal Express before anyone could imagine overnight deliver had all the problems of any new business with the justifiable skepticism of experts who could not imagine Fred Smith’s idea working. Deciding to create full length animated films and then a newish thing called a “theme park” made Walt Disney rich, but also presented unusual challenges. Smith and Disney conquered because they were bold leaders, but also because they managed to create a “people.”
Federal Express was saved from financial ruin by the loyalty of employees who took a risk with Smith. The Disney Company did what seemed improbable, because they were a team and not just Walt’s vision.
Success came when a dynamic leader combined his talents with a group of people who embraced the new way of doing business. No leader can do everything alone, but no new people can be formed without a man of destiny. Combine the two and nothing possible is improbable.