“According to my old formulation, we still need both the Bible and the newspaper.”
– Karl Barth
News & Views is a running blog of links to news and opinion pieces which Christian leaders may find of interest, provided here with minimal commentary. Linking to particular pieces implies neither endorsement of nor disagreement with their content.
Download the Usher and Greeter pack. Like secretaries and office staff, the significance of ushers and greeters is often missed. But these are precisely the very first people that visitors and inactive members encounter, in person or on the phone.
Physicist and practicing Catholic Stephen Barr: Does quantam physics make it easier to believe in God? “The upshot is this:if the mathematics of quantum mechanics is right (as most fundamental physicists believe), and if materialism is right, one is forced to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. And that is awfully heavy baggage for materialism to carry.”
Southern Baptist Convention elects first African-American president. For obvious reasons, this will prove one of the top religion stories of 2012.
CT on the juvenilization of American Christianity. “Today many Americans of all ages not only accept a Christianized version of adolescent narcissism, they often celebrate it as authentic spirituality. God, faith, and the church all exist to help me with my problems. Religious institutions are bad; only my personal relationship with Jesus matters. If we believe that a mature faith involves more than good feelings, vague beliefs, and living however we want, we must conclude that juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity.”
The Kindle edition of Year D: A Quadrennial Supplement to the Revised Common Lectionary. “Although one often hears of the need to preach ‘the whole counsel of God,’ few resources have seriously and specifically attempted to assist the preacher and planner of worship to do just that—until now. ‘Year D’ makes the case for the need and promise of supplementing the Revised Common Lectionary with a fourth year of lections and arranges many previously excluded biblical texts in an orderly, one-year preaching plan. It fills a need widely voiced by preachers that the lectionary effectively limits and censors the functional canon of Scripture.”
Varieties of Procrastination — and how to avoid them.
A series on evangelicals and politics at Public Discourse by Greg Forster: Part One: The Hundred Years’ War; Part Two: The Religious Right (Born 1979, Died 2000); Part Three: The Way Forward.
VIS: 22,000 (Catholic) baptisms in China on Easter Sunday. That’s big; I’ve known some Chinese who considered themselves followers of Jesus but who didn’t get baptized because the Chinese government (rightly) regards baptism as the point where one formally becomes a Christian, and it means forfeiting many privileges, official and unofficial.
Andreas Widmer, former Swiss Guard and author of The Pope and the CEO, at First Things writing about whether business can save your soul, prompted by a new document from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, The Vocation of a Business Leader (pdf).
“Benedict has not only been doctrinally consistent and intellectually sharp, as his apologists often note, but he has, indeed, been a leader, and this may be the most under-appreciated aspect of his reign.”
Six secrets of bad presentations. Read it, and do the exact opposite.
The NYT’s Ross Douthat dives into America’s amazing religious diversity and its relevance for the 2012 Presidential race. (His book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, will be released April 17.) Money graf: “When religious commitments are more comprehensive and religious institutions more resilient, faith is more likely to call people out of private loyalties to public purposes, more likely to inspire voters to put ideals above self-interest, more likely to inspire politicians to defy partisan categories altogether. But as orthodoxies weaken, churches split and their former adherents mix and match elements of various traditions to fit their preferences, religion is more likely to become indistinguishable from personal and ideological self-interest.”
Pope Benedict’s Good Friday message directed to families: “The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind; it touches the family too. How often does the journey become wearisome and difficult! Misunderstandings, conflicts, worry for the future of our children, sickness and problems of every kind. These days too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis. The Way of the Cross which we have spiritually retraced this evening invites all of us, and families in particular, to contemplate Christ crucified in order to have the force to overcome difficulties. The cross of Christ is the supreme sign of God’s love for every man and woman, the superabundant response to every person’s need for love. At times of trouble, when our families have to face pain and adversity, let us look to Christ’s cross. There we can find the courage and strength to press on; there we can repeat with firm hope the words of Saint Paul: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:35,37).”
Peter Berger on the death of Death-of-God theology: “The first problem is sociological: When the supernatural dimensions of Christianity are stripped away what remains are various secular agendas that can be embraced without religious trappings. In other words, every social Gospel tends to be self-liquidating…If the ‘death of God’ is understood as an affirmation that God does not exist, Christianity (and any other religion) is debunked as an illusion (I think that this was fully Nietzsche’s intention): Theologians, like typewriter repairmen, should retrain for other employment. If on the other hand the phrase is understood as a metaphor for secularization, thought to be an inevitable accompaniment of modernity, the empirical evidence does not support it: Most of the modernizing world today is intensely religious. To say the least, the ‘death of God’ has been very much relativized.”
Google quietly readmits churches and other nonprofits back into its nonprofit program.
…and don’t miss “In Defense of Religious Freedom”, a statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
FT’s Weigel on religious freedom. “Thirty-some years ago, I spent a fair amount of time on religious freedom issues; which meant, in those simpler days, trying to pry Lithuanian priests and nuns out of Perm Camp 36 and other GULAG islands. Had you told me in 1982 that one of my ‘clients,’ the Jesuit Sigitas Tamkevicius, would be archbishop of Kaunas in a free Lithuania in 2012, I would have thought you a bit optimistic. If you had also told me, back then, that there would eventually be serious religious freedom problems in the United States, I would have thought you a bit mad. But you would have been right on both counts.”
New prolife tactic: Save the Storks mobile ultrasound van. Kristen Walker of New Wave Feminists explains here.
Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk. Yes, the fictional captain of the Starship Enterprise.
Whispers: It’s apparent the crisis in the US over the HHS mandate and human sexuality is a concern at the papal level at the Vatican, as Pope Benedict addresses bishops from the upper midwest on sexuality: “In our previous meetings I acknowledged our concern about threats to freedom of conscience, religion and worship which need to be addressed urgently, so that all men and women of faith, and the institutions they inspire, can act in accordance with their deepest moral convictions. In this talk I would like to discuss another serious issue which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit to America, namely, the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality. It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”
Books & Culture reviews Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. “The chosen areas for analysis are the perceived incompatibility of religious belief and all forms of ‘science,’ the relativization of all forms of belief, the subjectivization of morality, the secularization of knowledge in the academies, the gradual subjection of all churches to the modern state, and the increasing subordination of both to the market. The book’s thesis is that these developments interacted in such a way as to give rise to the contemporary Western world. One of Gregory’s more intriguing arguments is his development of Amos Funkenstein’s demonstration that the beginning of the process whereby natural philosophy excluded God from the universe—and ‘science’ excluded the god-hypothesis from its working assumptions—had nothing to do with science per se but rather with the late-medieval theologian-philosopher Duns Scotus’ positing of ‘being’ as univocally shared by God and his creation, followed by William Occam’s nominalist insistence on the particularization of being and the dictum that causal explanations should include no more ’causes’ than absolutely necessary—Occam’s notorious ‘razor.’ The result was to make God the first and highest in the genus of being and dispensable as a hypothesis when modern science failed to find him.”
NCR’s John Allen on “Three Myths about the Church to Give Up for Lent”: (1) “Purple ecclesiology,” which “refers to the notion that the lead actors in the Catholic drama are the clergy”; (2) “A Church in decline,” which in global perspective is simply false; and (3) “Christianity is the oppressor, not the oppressed”: “Christians are today, statistically speaking, by far the most persecuted religious group on the planet. According to the Frankfurt-based Society for Human Rights, fully 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians. The Pew Forum estimates that Christians experience persecution in a staggering total of 133 nations, fully two-thirds of all the countries on earth.”
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, who is leading the Lenten spiritual retreat of the Holy Father and the Roman Curia, on lies in the Church and the world, in light of the Cross.
An interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev on music, liturgy, and Christian unity. Alfeyev is Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Vicar of the Moscow diocese, and chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations. That would make him perhaps the third-ranking Orthodox hierarch in the world.
Pope Benedict: Families indispensable in transmitting the faith. “The primary place for the transmission of faith was identified in the family. There the faith is communicated to young people who, in the family, learn both the contents and practice of Christian faith. The indispensable efforts of families are then extended by catechesis in ecclesial institutions, especially through the the liturgy with the Sacraments and the homily, or by giving space to parish missions popular piety, movements and ecclesial communities.”
WaPo: “Black pastors take heat for not viewing same-sex marriage as a civil rights matter.” “Thomas and the 77 other Baptist ministers in the association do not see same-sex marriage as a civil rights matter. Rather, they say, it is a question of Scripture, of whether a country based on Judeo-Christian principles will honor what’s written in Romans or decide to make secular decisions about what’s right.”
Pope Benedict’s Wednesday catechesis on the Christian season of Lent: “But in these times of “desert” and special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of devil, who offers him another messianic way, far from God’s plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is the alternative, messianism of power, of success, not messianism of gift and love of self.”
Pope Benedict off-the-cuff: Christians need to understand their faith in order to help others to God. “Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. … Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God.”
Following God requires sleep. Just ask Elijah.
The media blackout of pro-life women: “There’s no doubt that the pro-life movement needs to continue bringing women to the forefront. These women—women from all walks of life, from the grassroots to the halls of power—have a crucial role to play in one of the defining issues of our time. And we need to keep in mind that we live in a visual culture, where a picture can launch a good deal more than a thousand words. As I wrote in my book, a media storm over another photo, just a few years ago, caused its share of damage to the pro-life movement—damage that could easily have been avoided. More care needs to be taken to avoid getting into these ‘photo op from hell’ situations.”
Jeremy Lin’s leadership lessons. Linsanity — catch it!
Chuck Colson and Timothy George in CT on Francis Schaeffer’s challenge to the church in postmodernity. “Schaeffer, with laser-like precision, hit upon the most fundamental issue of our day: The denial of “true truth” was not some passing academic fad. In both its post-Kantian and postmodernist garb, this denial detaches language from reality and leads to the kind of moral and spiritual relativism that is the current coin of contemporary discourse, especially in Europe and North America. Schaeffer’s message impacted both of us at formative stages of our Christian growth. We were stirred by his challenge for the church to be more than a safe haven for the saved, just a comforter of souls. We were moved by his call to bring Christian truth to bear in every aspect of human life, including literature, politics, and the arts.”
CT: Ten popular strategies for helping the poor. “Sixteen researchers responded to the survey…And they showed remarkable consensus in their ratings. Virtually none of the highly rated poverty interventions received low marks from any of the responders. Likewise, virtually none of the lowly rated programs received high marks. [...] Of all the long-term development interventions, child sponsorship received the highest rating. Sponsors typically pay $25 to $40 per month, which covers a child’s educational fees, school uniforms, tutoring, health care, and, in faith-based sponsorship organizations, spiritual mentorship. Many development economists today favor interventions like child sponsorship that remove practical constraints to education while building a child’s self-esteem, aspirations, and goals. In this way, sponsorship relieves both external and internal poverty constraints.”
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: In Defense of Religious Freedom. “At the beginning of our common work on behalf of the gospel, it did not seem likely that religious freedom would be one of our primary concerns. The communist project in Europe had collapsed; the commitment of Christian believers to defeat totalitarianism through the weapons of truth had triumphed; and throughout the world, a new era of religious freedom seemed at hand. [...] We are now concerned—indeed, deeply concerned—that religious freedom is under renewed assault around the world. While the threats to freedom of faith, religious practice, and religious participation in public affairs in Islamist and communist states are widely recognized, grave threats to religious freedom have also emerged in the developed democracies. In the West, certain religious beliefs are now regarded as bigoted. Pastors are under threat, both cultural and legal, for preaching biblical truth. Christian social-service and charitable agencies are forced to cease cooperation with the state because they will not bend their work to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’”
Patrick Deneen on the HHS mandate kerfuffle and religious liberty. “But, the real debate is not over religious freedom, in fact: it is over the very nature of humanity and the way in which we order our polities and societies. Catholicism is one of the few remaining voices of principle and depth that can articulate an forceful and learned alternative to today’s dominant [classically] liberal worldview.”
Baroness Warsi, a British Muslim and member of the House of Lords, becomes a vocal defender of Christianity in Europe. An opportunity for people of various faiths to resist the rising tide of secularism?
Out of Ur: The Dangerous Pursuit of Pastoral Fame. “The Celebrity Pastor certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. But the extent to which some take it today, I think, is. Yes, Spurgeon had his sermons published in the paper weekly. But can anyone really imagine him re-tweeting the fawning praises of his Twitter followers, or John Wesley selling tickets to his latest tour? Can anyone imagine Dwight Moody slapping his name on a couple ghostwritten books a year?”
Five Leadership Mistakes of the Galactic Empire. Seriously. “Ultimately, the Galactic Empire failed as an enduring organization because of incredibly flawed leadership at the very top. By building an organizational culture based on fear, lack of independence, and an unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances, the Emperor set the stage for his own inevitable failure.”
US Ordinariate for Anglican churches wishing to join Rome launches. “Some hundred priests and as many as two thousand laity are expected to enter the structure just in its first wave; the first community to directly join the Ordinariate, Baltimore’s Mount Calvary parish, was received by Steenson in late January. Given earlier indications from north of the border, the reach of the quasi-diocese is likewise to include Canadian groups seeking to take up Pope Benedict’s 2009 offer of joint entry to Anglican communities wishing to full communion en masse.”
WSJ: Catholic Cardinal Wuerl, Evangelical Chuck Colson, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik write editorial slamming recent HHS decision. “At this critical moment, Americans of every faith, as guardians of their own freedom, must, in the words of the First Amendment, ‘petition the government for the redress of grievances.’ That’s why over the past two years more than 500,000 people have signed the ‘Manhattan Declaration’ in defense of religious liberty. They believe, as do we, that under no circumstances should people of faith violate their consciences and discard their most cherished religious beliefs in order to comply with a gravely unjust law. That’s something that this Catholic, this Protestant and this Jew are in perfect agreement about.”
Who Knew? Megadeth “a band that has Christians in it.” Bassist Dave Ellefson is taking distance courses through Concordia Seminary, an Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod school. (Your Editor now feels much better about the contents of his iPod.)
Twenty-First Century Recusants? “The fine [for not attending Anglican services under Elizabeth I], which began as a few shillings, was eventually raised to 20 pounds a month, a devastating penalty that few could afford. After being impoverished by such levies, family members would be thrown in jail for failing to pay, and sometimes expelled from the country. Only the wealthiest Catholic families, generally of the aristocracy, could avoid persecution by paying the fines and maintaining a Catholic existence in the privacy and secrecy of their estates.”
Reliable, or at least interesting, rumors surrounding the potential of Castro’s personal reconciliation with the Catholic Church. “The report, which appeared in the center-left Italian daily La Repubblica ‘quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.” Some Italian websites have even speculated as to when Fidel will make his confession and credo — setting the date as 27 March 2012 at 17:30 when the two ottantacinquenni, Pope Benedict XVI and Castro, will meet at the Palacio de la Revolución when the pope makes his official visit to the head of state, Raul Castro.’”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali pens Newsweek’s cover story, The War on Christians. Ali is a Muslim-turned-atheist. “[A] fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity—and ultimately of all religious minorities—in the Islamic world is at stake.”
Out of Ur: Celebrity Pastors, Bloggers, and Questions of Authority. “Today authority is granted to those who have simply proven they can build a platform. Consider Oprah Winfrey. No doubt she is very competent when it comes to the media business, but I’m guessing the Queen of Talk is a lot less savvy about digital cameras. Still, when she featured a new Nikon on her ‘Favorite Things’ show and called it ‘one sexy camera,’ it started to fly off store shelves. Why? Platform. Millions of people listen to Oprah, so she must be right … even about digital cameras.”
Leadership Journal interviews John Dickson on the virtue of humility. “The early Christians decided that greatness had to be redefined to include this word that had, up to that point, been associated with servitude, the Greek word tapeinos (or, in Latin, humilitas). The Christians started using these words that used to mean humiliation, as a virtue, because that’s what Jesus experienced. Christians recognized that the lowly place—the place of humility—can be the place of growth and learning and glory. Jesus went to the lowest place and was raised to the highest place. The point I’m trying to make is that humility entered into Western culture because of the event of the cross. That means our culture remains cruciform (shaped by the cross) long after it stopped being Christian. I’m trying to tell that story without being too theological or too nerdy in a book that’s really designed for Christian, and even non-Christian, leaders.”
GetReligion: Catholics Outraged, Media Unimpressed. GetReligion.org is a site dedicated to examining the media’s coverage (or lack thereof) of religion and religious angles in broader stories. The writers are professional journalists from a variety of confessional traditions. Well worth your daily time, if you follow the news.
Liberal Catholic (self-described) E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post criticizes the HHS decision on contraceptive coverage. “But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.”
Evangelicals are standing with Catholics in calling for resistance to the HHS mandate on insurance coverage for contraceptives: Chuck Colson says a threat to one is a threat to all; the National Association of Evangelicals is “deeply disappointed” with the HHS decision.
Pope Benedict on tradition, ecumenism, and Vatican II. “We can see today not few good fruits born of the ecumenical dialogues, but we must also recognize that the risk of a false irenism and of an indifferentism, completely separated from the mind of the Second Vatican Council, demands our vigilance. This indifferentism is caused by the ever more common opinion that truth would not be accessible to man; it would thus be necessary to limit oneself to search for rules for a praxis which would improve the world. And, therefore, faith would be replaced by a moralism, with no profound meaning. The center of true ecumenism is, instead, the faith in which man finds truth that reveals itself in the Word of God. Without faith, the entire ecumenical movement would be reduced to a kind of “social contract” to be joined for a common interest, a “praxeology” for creating a better world. The logic of the Second Vatican Council is completely different: the sincere search for full unity of all Christians is a movement animated by the Word of God, by divine Truth that is spoken to us in this Word.” Vatican Radio has the audio here.
Leadership Journal: The Church in Secular Culture, an interview with Australia’s John Dickson. “When you move out of admonition into mission, you realize Australia is no longer Jerusalem; it’s Athens. Then you instantly adopt a humbler approach to non-Christians. You don’t expect them to live Christian lives if they don’t confess Christ. You don’t expect Parliament to pass Christian-specific laws. But as a leader, you try to persuade the nation with winsomeness, with gentleness and respect, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15.”
On that note, asking the important questions: Is Cage Fighting Ethical for Christians?
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, on what Latino voters want. (Rev. Salguero and Dr. Huizenga did Clinical Pastoral Education together at Robert Wood Johnson hospital in NJ back in the day.)
Pope Benedict sees positive signs of fraternity on the ecumenical journey. “As we say our prayers we trust that we too will be transformed, conformed to the image of Christ”, the Pope said. “This holds particularly true for our prayers for Christian unity, … by means of which we participate in God’s plan for the Church. Everyone has the duty and responsibility to dedicate themselves to re-establishing unity. … United in Christ, we are called to share His mission, which is to bring hope where injustice, hatred and desperation dominate. Our divisions obscure our witness to Christ. The goal of full unity, which we await with diligent hope and for which we trustingly pray, … is an important victory for the good of the human family.”
Chief Rabbi of London Jonathan Sacks asks if Europe has lost its soul. “If Europe loses the Judaeo-Christian heritage that gave it its historic identity and its greatest achievements in literature, art, music, education, politics, and as we will see, economics, it will lose its identity and its greatness, not immediately, but before this century reaches its end. When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses its future. When it recovers its faith, it recovers its future. For the sake of our children, and their children not yet born, we — Jews and Christians, side-by-side — must renew our faith and its prophetic voice. We must help Europe recover its soul.” [Delivered 12/12/2011, so it's not quite recent in Internet time, but definitely worth reading.]
U-Mary, America’s Leadership University, is not alone: Franciscan U (Steubenville) founds new leadership institute. Nice to see them catching up:)
New, conservative Presbyterian denomination founded, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, consisting of congregations thinking of leaving the PCUSA.
Six reasons young people leave the Church. “Kinnaman prescribes intergenerational ministry. ‘In many churches, this means changing the metaphor from simply passing the baton to the next generation to a more functional, biblical picture of a body – that is, the entire community of faith, across the entire lifespan, working together to fulfill God’s purposes.’”
Leadership Journal: Reaching Steve Jobs’ core. Pun intended, apparently.
Native Americans “Overjoyed at News of First Saint,” Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
WSJ editorial: “Can You Come to Jesus without Church?” It’s a response to Jefferson Bethke’s video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” viewed well over more than 10 million times.
Leadership: The Red Bull Gospel. More to Christian faith than sack races and an easy faith.
Pope Benedict discusses religious freedom with the American bishops from region IV. “[I]t is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”
Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, discusses some of the highlights of Pope Benedict’s thought on ecumenism.
John Elway has committed to Tim Tebow as his starter going into training camp. So we take the occasion here post an old (June 2011) interview with Tebow.
+Slattery (Tulsa) sees a “prophetic vision” for Catholic Charities, in which a Christian vision of charity and compassion is exercised without government support.
John Allen at NCR: Five Myths about Christian Persecution. This is a must-read.
Leadership: Why Willpower Fails. “…willpower is real, and able to make a difference, but it is a finite commodity. It’s a lot like a muscle—if you do as many push-ups as you can and then immediately try to see how much you can bench press, it won’t be much. Willpower, like a muscle, can be built up over time. But in the short term it’s easily fatigued.”
Meanwhile, Benedict remains silent on China, but the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions cries out, and names two ‘disappeared’ bishops as men of the year. “The first one is James Su Zhimin, the almost 80-year-old bishop of Baoding (Hebei), arrested by police on 8 October 1997. Since then, nothing has been known about the charges that led to his arrest, or his trial and place of detention. In November 2003, he was seen in a Baoding hospital surrounded by public security officers. After a quick visit by relatives, he was taken away and disappeared without a trace. The second case is that of Cosmas Shi Enxiang, 90, bishop of Yixian (Hebei), who was arrested on 13 April 2001. Nothing is known about his fate either, even though his relatives and parishioners continue to ask police for information about him.”
Pope’s “State of the World” speech: “We must not lose heart” in the face of the economic crisis. And again, Benedict puts the family at the heart of the matter: “[E]ducation needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”
Map of megachurch distribution in the US. Seems to match population distribution; one might have thought regional differences would have affected distribution, but apparently not.
Stephen Colbert, among many other things, reflects on his experience of pain and loss as a child: “In 1974, when Colbert was 10, his father, a doctor, and his brothers Peter and Paul, the two closest to him in age, died in a plane crash while flying to a prep school in New England. ‘There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case,’ he told me. ‘I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so.’ He added, in a tone so humble and sincere that his character would never have used it: ‘She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.’”
N.T. Wright on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. “Maybe, after all, it is the theory of the contemporary sceptic that is metaphor historicized. The modernist belief that history is a closed continuum of cause and effect is projected onto the screen of the early church, producing a myth (specifically, a tradition-historical reconstruction which sustains and legitimates the original belief so strongly that its proponents come to believe it actually happened).”
The Anglican Ordinariate — an ecclesial structure permitting bodies of Anglicans to retain Anglican patrimony while coming into communion with Rome — is officially established in the US (and Canada) as of January 1. The ordinary, Rev. Jeffrey Steenson, former Episcopal Bishop, and now married Catholic priest, issued a statement.
Historian William Tighe’s piece on Calculating Christmas: “Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals. Rather, the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Son’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.”
Must read: Alan Jacobs, “Christianity and the Future of the Book.” “In this history [the relationship of Christianity and the codex] one can discern many ways in which forms of religious life shape, and in turn are shaped by, their key technologies. And as technologies change, those forms of life change too, whether their participants wish to or not. These changes can have massive social consequences, some of which we will wish to consider at the end of this brief history. Christians are, as the Koran says, ‘People of the Book’; in which case we might want to ask what will become of Christianity if ‘the book’ is radically transformed or abandoned altogether.”
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship under investigation: “InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s activities have been suspended at the University at Buffalo in New York until further notice. The school’s senate has also formed an investigative committee to determine the legality of the InterVarsity’s club’s constitution.” Along the same lines, Vanderbilt vets student organizations, and finds Christian ones wanting.
Frank Capra’s Miracle Woman. “Barbara Stanwyck embodied the director’s conflict between corporate religion and personal faith.”
LifeWay Christian Bookstores removes the “Komen Bible” from shelves. “When our leadership discovered the overwhelming concern that some of Komen’s affiliates were giving funds to Planned Parenthood, we began the arduous process of withdrawing this Bible from the market. Though we have assurances that Komen’s funds are used only for breast cancer screening and awareness, it is not in keeping with LifeWay’s core values to have even an indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood.”
The Supreme Court refuses to reconsider ruling permitting NYC schools to refuse to rent space to churches. “Last Monday morning, December 5th, word spread quickly, especially in the circles of New York City clergy, that the Supreme Court had decided not to the hear the case of Bronx Household of Faith vs. New York City Department of Education. By letting the appellate court’s ruling stand, the Court ensured that in early 2012, over sixty churches that rent space for their weekly worship gatherings in public schools will have to move. One of them is ours.”
Meet Mama Maggie Gobran, the Coptic “Mother Theresa” of Cairo. “Mama Maggie Gobran, the diminutive Coptic Christian…works in the slums of Cairo, Egypt, with destitute children, both Christian and Muslim, who ‘are hungry every hour.’ While she heads an organization, Stephen’s Children, it was clear that the power of her leadership was a more mystical kind than normally spotlighted at leadership summits. In her remarks, Mama Maggie said, ‘The hardest task of a leader is to get to know the Almighty and to keep your heart pure.’ One way to do that, she said, is through silence. There ‘you discover a taste of eternity.’”
Dhimmitude in Iraq: “The Latin Rite archbishop of Baghdad says that some Christians have been reduced to dhimmitude and are being forced to pay the jizya, a special tax that permits them to practice their faith. Christians are ‘helplessly witnessing crime, mafia, or militia,’ says Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman, who told Aid to the Church in Need that Christmas Mass will be ‘celebrated during the day, for safety reasons. It will be a Christmas between fear and sturdy faith.’”
Of interest: The Pope & The CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard. The Amazon description: “‘John Paul II showed me what real leadership looks like. He modeled for me how to pursue our God-given potential. Not coincidentally, this also makes us and those around us better employees, more capable of and more willing to work hard at building a stronger company. That is something that makes both good human sense and good business sense.’ – Andreas Widmer Former Swiss Guard, CEO and business leader. Andreas Widmer gives a behind-the-scenes look into Pope John Paul II…and reveals how those memories shaped and forged his success as a corporate executive…Widmer recounts his personal experiences serving Blessed Pope John Paul II in the Swiss Guard, and the secrets of successful leadership that he learned at the feet of the great pope.”
Peter Berger: Southern Baptists swimming in Lake Geneva. “Calvinism, often also referred to as Reformed theology, is gaining influence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). A 2007 poll reported that 10% of its pastors now call themselves Reformed, and that 29% of recent seminary graduates do so—an intriguing portent for the future. The development was not much noticed for a while, but is now generating a lively controversy.”
The NYT on the “New Evangelicals”: “These ‘new evangelicals’ are quick to say (correctly) that all this is not new but consistent with tradition. Evangelical emphasis on individual moral responsibility made them, from the colonial era to World War I, politically anti-authoritarian and economically populist — anti-banker and anti-landlord. Before the Civil War, they created many of the associations that helped build the country and, in the North, were crucially important to the abolitionist movement. After the war, they fought for labor against robber-baron capitalism and supported William Jennings Bryan three times for president on a pro-worker, pro-farmer platform. Even the Fundamentals pamphlets, circulated between 1910 and 1915 as a conservative call to evangelicals, included a section on the benefits of socialism.”
CT: What AMiA’s separation from Rwandan oversight means for global Christianity. “‘There are real missiological challenges when you seek to move across cultures with ecclesiastical oversight, which is why most denominations do not function that way,’ said Ed Stetzer, Lifeway Research president and missiologist in residence. ‘Finances, communication and leadership are exercised differently in different cultures and contexts,’ said Stetzer, who has been a speaker at AMIA conferences. ‘So, my perception is that the ascendancy of the Global South is real and coming, but we are in new territory in regard to polity here due to economic and cultural differences.’”
Evangelical NT scholar Craig Keener on miracles: “In Bultmann’s day, there also weren’t a lot of miracle claims. Today, we know so much more. Scholars need to go back and look again. A Pew poll I mention in my book surveyed Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in 10 countries who claim to have experienced miracles. If you total those up, we are talking about 200 million people. To dismiss miracles because they run against uniform human experience is an ethnocentric argument.”
Anglican schism: “An 11-year-old denomination that has prided itself on its submission to majority-world leadership broke away from that leadership Monday. Amid a dispute over authority, bishops in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMIA) resigned from their positions in the Anglican Church of Rwanda.”
Translation: Wycliffe and SIL issue new guidelines regarding the translation of “Son of God” in Muslim cultures. “SIL convened an August meeting in Istanbul for translators and consultants to set standards. They then released a best practices statement that reaffirms belief in the eternal deity of Jesus Christ and says, ‘Scripture translations should promote understanding of the term “Son of God” in all its richness, including his filial relationship with the Father, while avoiding any possible implication of sexual activity by God.’ Many Muslims balk at the Bible’s familial language, because the Qur’an teaches that God could not have a son. Yet critics have pushed back against some translations promoted by scholars connected to SIL that substituted ‘Christ’ for ‘Son of God’ in order to avoid turning off Muslim readers.”
Pope: Divine revelation does not follow the earthly logic of smarts and power: “God’s style is another: His communication is addressed precisely to the ‘childlike’. … And what is this childlikeness that opens humans to a filial intimacy with God and to welcoming His will? … It is the pureness of heart that allows us to recognize the face of God in Jesus Christ. It is keeping our hearts as simple as those of children, without the presumptions of those who are locked in themselves, thinking they have no need of anyone, not even God.”
CT: The Incarnation shows us a good and gracious God: “A passenger on a recent plane trip happily divulged his spiritual views. Raised in a conservative religious home, he proudly dismissed traditional Christianity, with its radical claims about Jesus of Nazareth, because it substitutes dogma for reason, he said. Fifteen minutes later, he became an apologist for a sacred cosmos, with tarot cards and astrology. But of course, he said, these were true just for him.”
U-Mary will celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 6:00 PM, Annunciation Chapel. University President Fr. James P. Shea will celebrate Mass in Spanish and English.
Church management practices are indeed a witness: “More recently, a popular vendor in town explained to me that my church was the only one he would allow to pay him through a billing system. All the other churches in town were required to pay cash on delivery. The Christian owners and operators of this business were saddened by the poor business practice of the churches in their community, but they worried they would go out of business if they trusted churches to pay their bills.”
The Dark Night of the Soul: Spiritual or Psychological? “One lesson we learn from the ancient mystics is that dark nights are not problems, but opportunities. Grasping this reality moves us beyond the question ‘How do we fix this?’ to the question ‘What might I learn in this?’”
6 December is the Feast of St. Nicholas, who eventually became Santa Claus. Little known but likely true, he once smacked the arch-heretic Arius in the presence of the Emperor Constantine.
Pope: Trinitarian monotheism is the source for peace. Interesting, because a longstanding critique of the Abrahamic tradition (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is that monotheism is inherently violent. But in good Trinitarian theology, humans made in the Imago Dei are drawn up into the life of the three persons of the Triune God who love each other. God and humanity do not compete as (perhaps) in a raw, voluntarist monotheism, one crushing the other (theocracy on one hand, secularism on the other) but rather the persons and humans exist (ultimately) in a harmony of love.
Video: NT Wright on Who Jesus Was and What He Did. A seven-minute interview on a FOX affiliate.
Did youth ministry create the Emergent Church? “[Tony Jones] went on to describe how contemporary youth ministry shuns the ‘accoutrements of power (vestments, titles, special roles and rites). Instead, youth are encouraged to engage all of the practices of the community equally.’ In other words, the rejection of structural authority and the focus on a flat structure of relational authority which has marked the Emerging Church Movement was learned in youth groups. Jones noted how many ECM leaders first had lengthy youth ministry experience within evangelical churches: Tim Keel, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, Tim Condor, and Chris Seay. To the youth ministry professors who may have a negative view of the Emerging Church, Jones said, ‘You taught them relational youth ministry, so what kind of churches did you expect them to plant?’” Fascinating connection.
Sarah Wilson at Lutheran Forum finds some of Luther’s wonderful teaching to children, using “pouches” and “pockets”. Luther: “…the heart may grasp the whole sum of Christian truth under two headings or, as it were, in two pouches, namely, faith and love. Faith’s pouch may have two pockets. Into one pocket we put the part of faith that believes that through the sin of Adam we are all corrupt, sinners, and under condemnation, Romans 5:12, Psalm 51:5. Into the other we put the part of faith that trusts that through Jesus Christ we are all redeemed from this corruption, sin, and condemnation, Romans 5:15-21, John 3:16-18. Love’s pouch may also have two pockets. Into the one put this piece, that we should serve and do good to everyone, even as Christ has done for us, Romans 13. Into the other put this piece, that we should gladly endure and suffer all kinds of evil.”
Mark Galli, ever the evangelical iconoclast: Forget leaders, we need chaplains. “We find ourselves in an odd period of church history when many people have become so used to large, impersonal institutions that they want that in their church as well. Thus the attraction of megachurches, where people can blend in and not be seen if they want. Many thought leaders who ponder church life naturally end up championing massive institutions and denigrating (inadvertently, to be sure) the healing of hurting souls. And this in a community whose theology is supposedly grounded in the universal and cosmic love of God who gives attention to each of us as individuals.”
Alan Jacobs: Tolkien no modernist. “Modern liberalism [Jacobs means this in the classical, philosophical sense] likes to think that all our problems are epistemological: we are afflicted by never knowing with sufficient clarity what we ought to do. Our fictions tend to reflect that assumption. Tolkien, not being a modern liberal, thought it more interesting to explore situations when people know what they need to know but may lack the strength of will to act on that knowledge. He might say, and with some justification, that contemporary literary fiction is not simplistic in regard to such problems but oblivious to them.”
CT: “My Perfect [Disabled] Child.” “Our daughter was born at 5:22 P.M. on a Friday afternoon. For two hours, we reveled in the sweetness of new life—her pouty lips and soft skin, her deep blue eyes, her full head of black hair. Then a nurse called my husband out of the room. When Peter returned, it took me a moment to see that his eyes were brimming. “The doctors think Penny has Down syndrome,” he told me. And the world began to break into pieces.”
Bradley Wright on “The Problem of Responding Badly to Doubt.” A lot of people leave the faith because they’re questions aren’t dealt with in either depth or charity it seems. “The way that Christians react to the doubts of others can, inadvertently, amplify existing doubt. Many of the writers told of sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.”
Al Mohler asks, Do sixth graders need cell phones?
Rev. Gregory Kalscheur on the task of Catholic higher education. “A university animated by the Catholic intellectual tradition embraces all who are dedicated to learning from one another, and remains open to contributions that may come in a range of ways. This persuasion challenges a Catholic university to engage all people, cultures, and traditions in authentic conversation — conversation undertaken in the belief that by talking across traditions we can grow in shared understanding that opens all parties to the possibility of changing their views.”
Joseph Bottum’s classic piece, “The End of Advent.“ “More than any other holiday, Christmas seems to need its setting in the church year, for without it we have a diminishment of language, a diminishment of culture, and a diminishment of imagination. The Jesse trees and the Advent calendars, St. Martin’s Fast and St. Nicholas’ Feast, Gaudete Sunday, the childless crèches, the candle wreaths, the vigil of Christmas Eve: They give a shape to the anticipation of the season. They discipline the ideas and emotions that otherwise would shake themselves to pieces, like a flywheel wobbling wilder and wilder till it finally snaps off its axle.”
Christmas Day falls again on a Sunday this year, as in 2005. Many churches stayed closed then, since it was a “family day.” Will it happen again?
CT’s review of The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World. A “model for ethical consumption.”
Nick Perrin’s reflections on the Gospel text for 2 Advent are now up. So too are Sr. Edith Selzler’s reflections on the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8).
Why Willpower Fails. “[W]illpower is real, and able to make a difference, but it is a finite commodity. It’s a lot like a muscle—if you do as many push-ups as you can and then immediately try to see how much you can bench press, it won’t be much. Willpower, like a muscle, can be built up over time. But in the short term it’s easily fatigued.”
The Megachurch bubble: Part 1, Part 2: “[T]he cultural and demographic conditions that have fueled much of the megachurch movement, multiplication, and growth are changing. And whenever a new movement tries to leap from one generation to the next there are some who don’t clear the gap.” More here from the Tennesean: Some Fear Megachurches Might Burst.
Jason Byassee on how much new pastors should change and when. “I wonder whether worship is the key to resolving this tension between doing everything or doing nothing? Or maybe to not resolving it — but holding both options in-hand opposably at the same time? In some places worship will show that something must change post-haste. In others worship will show we should be much more cautious. In either case it’s the rhythm, the energy, of their life together that will make what to do next obvious. Or so I hope.”
Pope Benedict’s exhortation to African Catholics, Africae Munus: “I invite all people of good will to look to Africa with faith and love, to help it become – through Christ and through the Holy Spirit – the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14). A precious treasure is to be found in the soul of Africa, where I perceive a spiritual ‘lung’ for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope, on account of the extraordinary human and spiritual riches of its children, its variegated cultures, its soil and sub-soil of abundant resources.”
Why Teens Drift from Faith: “But at the end of the day, one of the biggest measures of whether our children will know Jesus is whether they have watched us know Jesus. That doesn’t mean we need to be perfect Christians who never lose our tempers and always demonstrate patience and love. It means we need to be transparent about our humanity and our salvation in our habits, our attitudes, our actions towards our kids, and our actions towards others. Their findings reminded me of a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts about reading habits in America in 2007. The study showed that the highest predictor of reading habits came not from whether or not parents read to their children (though that was a key factor), but whether or not parents themselves read in the presence of their children. In Powell and Clark’s words, ‘It’s who you are that shapes your kid.’ When it comes to faith, our kids need to see us doing it—reading the Bible, praying, going to church, forgiving other people, and living lives of love and service to God.”
Religion + food = obesity: “In one study of some 5,500 women and men ages 45 to 84, participants were more likely to be obese the more religiously active they were. Each step of the way, from those never attending worship to those attending weekly, greater religious activity was associated with significantly higher rates of obesity.”
++Rowan Williams on the King James Bible: “The temptation is always there for the modern translator to look for strategies that make the text more accessible; and when that temptation comes, it doesn’t hurt to turn for a moment – for some long moments indeed – to this extraordinary text, with its continuing capacity to surprise us into seriousness, to acquaint us again with the weight of glory – and, we hope and pray, to send us back to the unending work of letting ourselves be changed so that we can bear just a little more of the light of the new world, full of grace and truth.”
Catholic Ordinariate for Anglicans to go live January 1. The “Ordinariate” is a way for traditionalist Anglicans to have full union with Rome while retaining particularly Anglican liturgy and culture.
“The Demise of Guys”: Video gaming and other things rewire boys’ brains: “Psychologist Philip Zimbardo describes drug addiction as ‘wanting more,’ but guys today have what he calls arousal addiction, always ‘wanting something different.’ This never-ending stream of stimulation is behind the growing failure of males to connect with women socially or to succeed academically. They’re dropping out of life. Zimbardo cites excessive internet use, video gaming, and online porn as causes of this new addiction. By age 21, boys spend 10,000 hours gaming, two-thirds of that time in isolation. The average young man watches 50 porn clips per week.”
Intergenerational connections and parental involvement give kids a faith that lasts beyond high school: “I’m afraid that in our effort to offer relevant and age-appropriate teaching and fellowship for teenagers, we have segregated students from the rest of the church. According to our research, that segregation is causing students to shelve their faith. But there’s also good news. Getting rid of the two-table system, and placing teens in intergenerational contexts of worship, ministry, and life, helps their faith thrive—in high school and beyond.”
The formation of babies’ brains and the fight against poverty: “Drury, Nelson, and their collaborators are still learning about the orphans. But one upshot of their work is already clear. Childhood adversity can damage the brain as surely as inhaling toxic substances or absorbing a blow to the head can. And after the age of two, much of that damage can be difficult to repair, even for children who go on to receive the nurturing they were denied in their early years. This is a revelation with profound implication—and not just for the Romanian orphans.”
Archbishop Dolan at Bishops’ fall plenary: “Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”
US Catholic Bishops launch website: Marriage: Unique for a Reason.
Post Office may reduce or eliminate discount for nonprofit mailings. “Under Rep. Darrell Issa’s bill, the 40 percent discount that nonprofits have been getting for the postage rates on their mailings since Congress authorized it in 1951 would be reduced by 5 percent a year, and to 10 percent after six years.”
School choice programs are booming. “New coalitions have broken down political boundaries and drawn activists to a common goal. ‘It’s like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime,’ said Clint Bolick, a lawyer with the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute and a defender of many high-profile school voucher programs. ‘You primarily have Republicans joining forces with low-income communities, faith-based communities, [and] a fair number of liberal activists including black mayors and legislators.’”
Poll: Only half of American pastors willing to talk about persecution; apparently it’s too much of a “downer”.
Vatican Radio on the power of placenta for stem cell research: “A leading pioneer in the use of adult stem cells to treat life-threatening diseases is calling the Vatican ‘a very powerful and supportive ally to helping advance this technology’ [...] Recipient of the Thomas Alva Edison Award for his discovery of placental stem cells in 2007 and for engineering tissues and organs from stem cells in 2011, Dr. Hariri says he was first drawn to investigate the placenta as a therapeutic source of stem cells after seeing an ultrasound of his daughter while she was an embryo growing in the womb. He marvelled at how the placenta developed more rapidly than the embryo and at its nutrient-giving and protective properties.”
Archbishop Chaput, again, on religious liberty in a post-Christian culture: “Without the restraints of a common moral consensus animated and defended by a living religious community, the freedom of the individual easily becomes a license for selfishness. The meaning of right and wrong becomes privatized. And ultimately, society ends up as a collection of disconnected individuals whose appetites and needs are regulated by the only project they share in common: the state.”
The spirituality of memory for Christian leaders: “God wants us to worship him and not his miracles, his person and not his capabilities. He wants us to love him, not what he can do for us. Will we worship him when things go wrong—when the van breaks down, the mortgage check bounces, or your baby lies ill in the NICU? Will we worship him in the mundane—when the laundry’s piled high and the kids bicker incessantly? Being able to worship in such circumstances is linked to our capacity to remember the amazing times God gives us in our faith journey.”
Generation Isolation: “Psychologist Philip Zimbardo describes drug addiction as ‘wanting more,’ but guys today have what he calls arousal addiction, always ‘wanting something different.’ This never-ending stream of stimulation is behind the growing failure of males to connect with women socially or to succeed academically. They’re dropping out of life.”
Sudanese bishops lament continued violence. “We are deeply troubled by the ongoing violence in our two nations,’ the bishops said in a recent statement. ‘Civil war has broken out in the Nuba Mountains / South Kordofan State and in Blue Nile State, alongside the ongoing war in Darfur. We have consistently warned of the danger of a return to hostilities if the legitimate aspirations of the people of these areas were not met. Civilians are being terrorized by indiscriminate aerial bombardment.’”
Archbishop Chaput on “Being Human in an Age of Unbelief,” delivered 7 November at UPenn. “Most of us here tonight believe that we have basic rights that come with the special dignity of being human. These rights are inherent to human nature. They’re part of who we are. Nobody can take them away. But if there is no Creator, and nothing fundamental and unchangeable about human nature, and if “nature’s God” is kicked out of the conversation, then our rights become the product of social convention. And social conventions can change. So can the definition of who is and who isn’t ‘human.’”
Christianity Today reviews historian Darryl Hart’s From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. Hart argues that evangelicals are actually political progressives, believing in a decidedly non-Augustinian ”redemptive utopianism”. “Hart awakens evangelicals to five factors that put them at odds with conservatism: (1) habitual appeal to the Bible as the prescriptive standard for national affairs, which abuses the Reformation principle of sola scriptura; (2) failure to differentiate the norms and tasks of the ‘little platoons’ in society (e.g., family, work, church, neighborhood association, political party); (3) conflation of ultimate and proximate realities, thus neglecting ‘an older Augustinian view of the relationship between the City of God and the City of Man’; (4) naïveté about human depravity, beholden to a perfectionist model of sanctification; and (5) an anti-formalist attitude, which regards ‘the American political tradition’s conventions of federalism, republicanism, and constitutionalism [as] merely formal arrangements that may be discarded if a better option surfaces.’”
N.T. Wright’s inaugural lecture at the University of St. Andrews: “Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity.“ “[T]he gospels, though well known at one level, are unknown at another. An oversimplification, of course; but I refer to the overall drift of gospel studies, and to the perception of the gospels in the church community to which biblical studies remains tangentially, and sometimes uncomfortably, related…Despite generations now of redaction criticism and narrative criticism, I am not convinced that the main message of the gospels has been grasped, let alone reflected in the methods employed for further study. And since I shall contend in this lecture that the four gospels stand at the centre of the missionary and hence theological life of the early church, a failure to understand their central thrust is most likely an index of a failure to grasp several other things as well about the life and work of the first Christians.”
A classical Christian school in Seattle. “The decision to establish Seattle Classical Christian School downtown rather than in a surrounding neighborhood or suburb was a theological one for the school’s board of directors. Little, a research scientist and software developer by profession, sees SCCS as a means of loving Seattle and helping it flourish. ‘My wife and I have a major calling to live in the city. We read Jeremiah 29 … We get it. We’re in Babylon. Have some kids, plant some gardens, plant some roots.’ Focusing his efforts on the city is also a logical move for Little. ‘Cities are marked by density and diversity. Jesus loves people, so therefore, logically, Jesus loves cities. Here is where the culture is made. Here is where the nations of the world gather.’”
Chris Armstrong on the fruits of the dark night of the soul for Christian leaders: “One good reason for giving the dark night a second look is because of who undergoes it. Among the sufferers are some of the church’s most faithful leaders: people such as C. S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther. Perhaps the best way to begin to understand this experience of darkness is to listen in as they struggle to find meaning in the midst of their nights.”
Josh Genig at FT on the Liturgical Colors of Reformation Sunday. Josh also has a piece for us on “The Sacramentality of Preaching.”
Happy 93rd to Dr. Billy Graham! “‘I fought growing old in every way,’ Graham, who turns 93 on Monday, writes in the newly-published ‘Nearing Home,’ a book that ranges from Scripture quotations about the end of life to brass tacks advice on financial planning. ‘I faithfully exercised and was careful to pace myself as I began to feel the grasp of Old Man Time. This was not a transition that I welcomed, and I began to dread what I knew would follow.’”
Iran reportedly pressuring condemned evangelical pastor to convert to Islam. “Iran’s secret service officials recently approached 34-year-old pastor Youcef Nadarkhani at his prison site in Rasht and presented him with a book on Islamic literature, telling him they would be back to discuss the material and hear his opinion, the sources said.”
Archbishop Chaput on evangelization (delivered in 1997 on today’s feast of St Charles Borromeo): “If we truly seek conversion, community and solidarity, we need to be completely frank with one another. But in doing so, we should also take heart from the fact that people will continue to have a deep hunger for God. With good teaching and good pastors, they will continue to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, and they will respond.”
Peter Leithart on “Intrusive Third Parties” in sex and marriage: “The crisis of traditional marriage is imaginative and political because it is metaphysical and theological…the problem can be resolved only by breaking open the pornographic with a metaphysics that welcomes the intruder as a liberator and a politics that welcomes children as the normal fruit of eros. Here especially our culture will grope its way to sanity only by recourse to first things.”
Pelagius Rehabibus: “Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the [Episcopal] Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition.”
Rod Dreher on the Decline of the Churches, drawing much on Robert Bellah and Peter Steinfels: “Why [the decline]? As you know, I think this has to do with broader changes in our culture that have made the idea of organized religion far less compelling than it previously was. We live in a culture now in which many people think of religion in terms of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. God is a vague presence who wants us to be good, and to be happy, but beyond that, who can say? If religion is primarily about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents — that is, teaching them how to live more comfortably, as distinct from teaching them how to live and to worship God — then really, why go to church? Under MTD, you go when you feel the desire to go. You design the religion around yourself.”
Francis Cardinal George on current challenges to religious freedom: “What history teaches clearly, however, is that when the dominant culture and its laws eliminate religious freedom, the state becomes sacred. No appeal to God or to a morality based on religious faith is allowed to break into the closed circle of civil legalism. The state’s coercive power is not limited to keeping external order; it invades the internal realm of one’s relation to God. The state becomes a church.”
Rocco Palmo on All Souls’ Day/el Día de los Muertos (today, Nov. 2). On the subject, why not bake soul cakes?
John Ortberg on dead icons and the quest for immortality: “Human beings cannot stop longing for salvation. Even if we don’t believe in God, we want to be delivered or rescued from the something inside us that cannot be satisfied. I sometimes think in our day we have just secularized salvation. We have made it economic and therapeutic. Our hope for salvation lies in being successful enough or happy enough. We’re not there yet. But maybe with a little more work … a little more success.”
Francis X. Rocca in the Wall Street Journal (via CERC) on “Pope Benedict’s Interfaith Outreach.” “However undiplomatic it may seem in certain contexts, Benedict’s emphasis on objective truth is, by his lights, essential to the agenda for which he prayed in Assisi. As he told a European ambassador last week, social justice is based on norms accessible to all, derived not from divine revelation but from ‘reason and nature’ – that is, from ‘universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment.’”
What do church leaders do, anyway? “The idea that leaders are somehow intrinsically different from normal believers can even fool pastors who try to live up to grand expectations that their congregations put on them—or that they have for themselves. Those same leaders tend to perpetuate the myth of super-saint-leaders, so they search within their congregations to identify people with the potential as spiritual leaders. After searching for super-shepherds among their mere-sheep, those misinformed pastors grow discouraged because they cannot find many leaders in their congregation.”
Gordon MacDonald: Effective cutting requires routine sharpening: “Somehow the Sabbath idea had not come alive to me before. Sabbath was perceived as a wild Sunday of spell-binding preaching, growing crowds, and successful programming. I never imagined a Sabbath experience of majestic worship, joyful quiet (instead of noise), interior ‘conversation’ and a reordering of the pieces of my life. No wonder I felt so messy. I knew none of these.”
Caution Light: Rev. Charles Jenkins on revitalizing a longstanding congregation: “If the vision sat with you, let it sit with them. Don’t expect a harvest in places where you have not sown seed. Seek reinforcements before finding replacements.”
Credo House: What Sola Scriptura Does Not Mean: “[T]radition (church history) is an authority in our lives. Those who have gone before us in the faith must be respected. Their collective and unified influence creates an authority which, I believe, is second only to Scripture. After all, they had the same Holy Spirit as us, didn’t they? The Holy Spirit does not teach us everything new as individuals, but educates and inspires us in and with those who have gone before us. That is why I love dead theologians!”
The New Yorker explores the rise of digital religion: “[T]he era of digital religion is only now poised to begin in earnest, ushered in by technological advancements—the widespread adoption of tablets and smartphones—and by religious leaders eager to harness the power of that technology to inspire and instruct their flocks.” So does CT in “People of the Nook”: “This unprecedented ability to carry the words of God almost weightlessly everywhere I go, and to read them on the same device that helps me manage my life, strikes me as utterly theologically fitting. I am reminded of the priesthood of all believers, and the Scriptures’ self-definition as the “words of life”—meaning, surely, at least this: words that are to inform and infuse every part of our lives, commingling with breath mints, photos, and phone calls.”
Archbishop Rowan Williams on the KJV: “…the language of the Authorised Version…feels serious, it comes from an age when there was a register of solemnity in English which we don’t really have now and while we don’t want religion to sound quaint or old fashioned, none the less I think we do need moments in our liturgical practise and our reading of the bible when we’re reminded that what were trying to talk about is not just the business of the house in the street, it is also strange and astonishing and terrifying and there’s something about the language of the authorised version which just holds on to that for us…” Much more great stuff from ++Rowan at the link.
Stanley Hauerwas on Reformation Sunday. About 16 years old but still apropos. “Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.”
Pope Benedict’s speech at Assisi. Striking stuff: Benedict criticized religion in general — including Christian faith — for engaging in violence and terror, and then praised agnostics. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.
NCR’s John Allen on Pope Benedict’s interreligious (and non-religious) intentions in Assisi: “The day’s official theme is ‘Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.’ [Cardinal Peter] Turkson [of Ghana] said the emphasis on truth is not opposed to dialogue, because ‘the truth can never be exhausted.’ Another distinct touch from Benedict is the inclusion of four high-profile nonbelievers on the guest list, including Austrian economist Walter Baier and Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva. Benedict has made the effort to start a conversation about reason and faith a core theme of his papacy.”
Pulitzer-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson: Mainline churches remain radical but lost their courage after the Civil War. Interviewed by Jason Byassee, who provided us with an interview on Christian Leadership.
Neglect spiritual formation, bleed membership and vitality: “The percentage of U.S. congregations reporting high spiritual vitality declined from 43 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010, according to the latest Faith Communities Today survey. The drop was accompanied by a decline in the emphasis given to spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture reading across nearly all groups…”
W. Bradford Wilcox in the NYT: Strong marriages make for strong economies. “At least in the West, children are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to thrive in the modern economy when they are raised in an intact, married family. In the U.S., for instance, children are more likely to graduate from high school, complete college and be gainfully employed as young adults if they were raised in an intact, married family. And around the globe, men are more likely to give their work their fullest effort and attention when they are married; this is one reason men worldwide enjoy “marriage premiums” in their income, ranging from about 14 percent (Mexico) to 19 percent (United States) to 35 percent (Russia). So, at least when it comes to men, research suggests that marriage has important implications for worker productivity.”
John Ortberg on the “growth mindset”: “It is not simply that some people crave risks, or that some people are naturally more resilient. The key, Dweck found over and over again, is the belief that underlies your sense of identity. If you believe your qualities are carved in stone it will determine how you approach (and avoid) challenges throughout your life. If you believe that growth is possible and desirable, you will face your days with a fundamentally different set of thoughts and emotions.”
Meet the Millenials: “Before conducting the research, the Rainers feared they’d discover hostility to Christianity among Millennials. What they found, however, was worse: indifference. ‘At least someone who opposes Christianity has our beliefs on his or her radar. Most of the Millennials don’t think about religious matters at all.’”
An interview with the youngest Benedictine abbot in the country. “[C]ultivating the right kind of interiority requires yearning for the truth itself, which is ultimately God, and observing some practices, such as keeping moments of silence and having some structure in one’s day. St. Benedict is an example of this and many, without joining a monastery, find him a good guide in this way.”
Gordon MacDonald on silence: “We evangelicals are hardly known for our silence. Our branding implies proclaiming, declaring, even persuading. But it opens up the possibility that we can very easily be a rather noisy people even when we don’t have much to say. Words without substance and authenticity equal irrelevance.”
CNN On Faith: Are young Christians waiting anymore? RELEVANT Magazine suggests no. Of course, many young Christians spend more time single — into their 30s — than many monks, nuns and priests of earlier eras.
Archbishop Gomez on current challenges to freedom of religion for Catholic institutions: “America’s founders understood that our democracy depends on Americans being moral and virtuous. They knew the best guarantee for this is a civil society in which individuals and religious institutions were free to live, act, and vote according to their values and principles. We need to help our leaders today rediscover the wisdom of America’s founding. And we need to help believers once more understand the vital importance of this ‘first freedom.’ At stake are not just our liberties but also the future character of our democracy.”
Archbishop Dolan tag-teams on current challenges to freedom of religion: “The restriction of religious liberty not only inhibits the practice of faith, but has dire consequences for our society. Faith provides a foundation for the dignity of the human person, representative government, the balance of power, and the virtue and civility essential to a vibrant commonwealth.”
Copious Coffee Combats Cancer. “Women in the study who drank more than three cups of coffee a day were 20 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing form of skin cancer, than those who drank less than one cup a month. Men in the study who consumed more than three cups of coffee had a 9 percent reduction in their basal cell carcinoma risk.”
Narcissism is not leadership: “However, scientists have discovered that while narcissists are convincing leaders, they are so consumed by their own brilliance that it actually cripples their creativity and often causes them to make bad decisions.”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, will soon meet with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC, in New York. “Cardinal Koch has an opportunity to send a message of continuity and progress as he arrives in New York, where New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who also is president of the USCCB, is a consistent and vocal champion of Catholic-Jewish relations.”
Supreme Court hears major case on religious freedom: “As in many cases that touch on religion, Supreme Court justices seemed divided today as they considered the case of a fired Missouri-Synod Lutheran elementary teacher classified as a “commissioned minister.” But they seemed to agree that there’s no easy, uniform principle that would allow church employees to seek redress in the courts without entangling the courts in questions of religious doctrine.”
FT: A very brief theology of new media culture: “We now have access to one of the most powerful technologies in the history of mankind. We not only have access to information that was unavailable to Aquinas, Newton, and Einstein, but we possess the ability to communicate instantly with people across the globe. Yet the vast majority of our time is spent reading and writing about ephemera; warm milk has a longer shelf-life than the average blog post.”