Category Archives: Christianity

AGEISM?

Two questions I recently posed to Scot McKnight:

Two questions and I am looking for your quick, gut answers, especially since there is no way to know for certain. So from your own experience in ministry:

How much of an issue (from 1-10, with 10 being a semi truck sized issue) are:

The lack of compelling, joyful, wise, thoughtful, loving, and faith-filled folks over 50?

The lack of regard pastors and other ministry leaders under 40 have for the first group?

My own experience is positive. I am 59 and find lots of young men who desire time and input. However, I certainly see the effects of ageism in the church that is sadly perpetuated by too many, younger leaders.

Scot’s response:

On #1, a one or two: there are plenty.
On #2, too much but it is less that than a culture that doesn’t think in terms of wisdom but in terms of creativity and newness.

HOW CLUTTERED IS YOUR HOUSE?

As I near sixty years old (surreal!) I am working to leave our earthly possessions in such a way as not to be a burden to our two sons.  To that end, I recently sold over 100 books from our somewhat large library (around 3000 volumes).  These are niche books that would not be of interest to them.  Fortunately, there are several books they want, but there are still many to get rid of.  I continue sift and make decisions and a new batch will be going out soon.  It is an ongoing battle as new review and interview copies keep coming from various publishers.  Getting rid of these books are “little deaths” and reminders of my own mortality, neither of which are cheery!  However, I don’t want leave David and Chris with unnecessary burdens.  The added motivation is that we can use the extra money now so it adds further incentive to be perpetually pitching.

A few days back I read about this study which adds some more motivation! (HT: Scot McKnight/Jesus Creed):

Imagine for a moment a team of anthropologists walking through your door, taking a look around, and settling in for a close observation of your possessions, how you interact with them, and what this means about American life.
 

That’s pretty much what happened to 32 middle-class families between 2001-2005. I recently came across the results of this anthropological study, published in 2012: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, by Jeanne E. Arnold, Anthony P. Graesch, Enzo Ragazzini, and Elinor Ochs. Together with a large research team, the authors analyzed and cataloged the visible possessions in each and every room of the 32 households—counting, documenting, examining, and coding artifacts in situ, in their place.

Devoting thousands of hours to data collection, they hoped to glean insights on the acquisition and organization of material artifacts, and on how families interacted with their possessions, and with one another. The results of the study are at once illuminating and devastating.

Their most striking findings concern the sheer magnitude of our material possessions.

Seventy-five percent of garages contain no cars. They’ve been repurposed to contain surplus stuff—unused furniture, bins containing countless forgotten-but-not-gone possessions. (The typical garage contains between 300-650 boxes; nearly 90 percent of garage square footage is being used for storage, rather than for cars).
Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2017/08/reclaiming-life-at-home/#G1CodWjTVhUb76DY.99

HOW DANTE CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE

Image result for how dante can save

https://www.amazon.com/Dante-Save-Your-Life-Life-Changing/dp/1941393322

Journalist and gadfly, Rod Dreher, loves a good argument. If you read him, as I do, you know he can write and has loads of good things to offer. He pushes boundaries at times, sometimes makes incautious assertions, but you are always forced to think.

This is the second book I’ve read by Dreher. A few months back I read The Benedict Option book. How Dante Can Save Your Life was finished on a flight home late last night. There is much I liked about it.

First, kudos to the publisher for an absolutely stunning design. There’s nothing like real books!

Dreher’s book is full of well-written and insightful observations all while using Dante’s Comedy as his conversation partner.

My only major beef with the book is the Mommie Dearest kind of approach. It’s great to have honesty, but Dreher tells us far too much about the conflicts in his home. At times it felt like a Jerry Springer show in print.

Still, there is much to benefit from in reading How Dante Can Save Your Life.

NOT HEADING FOR THE HILLS!

Image result for the benedict option

Scholars are rarely prophets and prophets are rarely scholars.  I was reminded of this in reading the much debated, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.

Rod Dreher, journalist and outspoken Christian, is decidedly on the prophetic side of the scholar-prophet spectrum. This, however, does not mean that he is incapable of helping us better understand the far-reaching and practical ramifications of something as arcane as nominalism.

We must say right out of the blocks that Dreher’s book is not a jeremiad screed to head for the hills.  Rather, Dreher advocates for “exile in place.”  The preposition is key.  We are to cultivate faithfulness with other like-minded folks not simply to hunker down in our religious enclaves.  We should form these counter-cultural communities to strengthen our capacity to engage, not escape, our world.  This is a clarion call by a gifted writer to let the church be the church.

I have my disagreements with some of Dreher’s analysis and antidotes.  With respect to the former, Dreher is insufficiently aware of what the Protestant Reformers meant by sola Scriptura.  As Keith Mathison memorably puts it, sola Scpritura does not mean solo Scriptura.  Among other things, leaning on the thesis in Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation made for a potted history.  Dreher would have been greatly helped if he had availed himself of the work of either Mathison or D.H. Williams, especially his Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: a Primer of Suspicious Protestants.

As to antidotes, I don’t share Dreher’s sweeping denunciation of public schools.  For the record, our two sons attended Christian schools, had a few years of homeschooling, and went to public high schools.  All three have their strengths and weaknesses.  Sure, public schools can be a mess.  I saw incompetent teachers and weak administrators, but I also saw bogus rules, unprincipled administrators and mean teachers at the Christian school.  My experience, it needs to be noted, was both as a parent and a part-time teacher.

Dreher is rightly concerned about the corrosive effects of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.”  I share his concerns.  I also share Dreher’s conviction that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.”  As many have said, the church seems the most vital (and prophetic) when it works from the margins of power.  Notwithstanding its shortcomings, Dreher’s book is a good reminder of that reality.

YALE LOG PART 2

Click on any picture below to enlarge.

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale is one of the world’s best.  Unlike Harvard’s collection, you don’t need to wear white gloves.  Once we were vetted, we were shocked by the freedom they give to scholars.

Here are a few things we looked at.  First, is Jonathan Edwards Bible.  Paper was rare, but Jonathan liked to write…a lot.  You will see that the small sheet has the passage of Scripture and then two blank pages to take notes on what he was reading.  And did he ever take notes!  I did somewhat of a quick count of his handwritten notes on Genesis and each page has about 2500 words!  On a similar size sheet of paper I write about 250 words. 

Jonathan’s wife, Sarah, along with their daughters, made fans.  When the fans were no longer of use, Jonathan would take the delicate scraps and weave them into a book where he could write down sermon notes, etc.

Doreen got choked up when she held Jonathan’s Bible in her hands.  The word that kept coming to my mind was “humbling” as you see the great effort Jonathan exerted to make sense of God’s Word.

Fabric from Sarah’s wedding dress.

Our dear friend, Dr. Dave Mahan, is the director of the Rivendell Institute (www.rivendellinstitute.org) and teaches at Yale Divinity.  Dave set us up with Susan Howe, who is a world-renowned poet.  In 2017, she won the Robert Frost Medal for “distinguished lifetime service to American poetry.”  Susan was a sheer delight to be with.  We spent two terrific hours at her beautiful home in the country.  Susan is candid about not being a Christian, but she is captivated by the beauty and respect for language she finds in Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

I headed over to Yale’s Sterling library and was thrilled to see they have my first book. 

Michael McClymond is Professor of Modern Christianity at St. Louis University.   Doreen met Mike in college some thirty-five years ago!  She had not seen Mike since, but he happened to be at Yale the same time as us.  Mike told us about his various writing projects, one of which he happened to remember quoting my book, The Battle for Hell.  Mike is a wonderful guy, expert on Jonathan Edwards, and graciously offered to be a resource for Doreen with her book on Sarah.

Check out Mike’s work here: https://sites.google.com/a/slu.edu/michael-j-mcclymond/

The great folks at the Overseas Ministries Study Center made our time fun and fruitful.  Many thanks to Dr. Tom Hastings, Pam Huffman, Pam Sola, Michael Racine, Ray Sola, Judy Stebbins, and the ever present help of Chee-Seng and Sharon!

Check them out at www.omsc.org.

I will close with a foodie picture.  This is Nica’s Market (www.nicasmarket.com), a terrific and reasonable place to grab a bite (or many bites!) to eat.  The guy behind me seems skeptical about my choices, but trust me, they were good.

 

YALE LOG PART 1

Some of you know that we came to Yale so Doreen could begin to do intensive research on Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan.  Most of you know that Doreen’s first book is on the ministries/marriages of Jonathan/Sarah Edwards, George/Elizabeth Whitefield, and John/Molly Wesley.  Doreen’s book is used as a required text by a professor of history and theology at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).  It is gratifying to hear how the students appreciate Doreen’s hard work.  Here is recent picture of Doreen speaking at DTS.

We usually stop in Dallas on our treks back east.  Our wonderfully encouraging friends, Bill and Helen Reeves, welcomed us into their lovely abode on our way to New Haven, CT.

Our first big stop was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Doreen’s sister and brother-in-law live there.  I was reminded that we were in the Bible belt when I stepped into the restroom of a Christian bookstore.  I guess several biblical truths could work like “Go…and Make Disciples!”

We made it safely to Yale.  Here is Dr. Ken Minkema, the Director of The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.  We had a terrific and productive time with him. 

I close this log with a few pictures from one of our study locations.  These are from the Yale Divinity library.

A peek out our window…

 

 

 

 

CYNICISM

Cynicism is easy.

Cynicism is toxic.

Cynicism is deceptive.

A cynic believes they have corralled all of reality into their own little brain and determined that things are bleak indeed.  There is, however,  a very big problem.  No one can know all reality, except God.  And God tells us that a mark of being a Christian is hope.

So, since no one is omniscient, no one has the right to be cynical.  There are all kinds of realities the cynic does not know about that would change their pessimistic outlook.

CONVERSION

In her eminently fascinating book, Carolyn Weber writes about the questions she hurled at a fellow student.  She then observes:

I now understand why the words conversation and conversion are evocative of each other, turning toward each other, yet separated merely by where you are “at.”

(From Surprised by Oxford: a Memoir, p. 82)

https://www.amazon.com/Surprised-Oxford-Memoir-Carolyn-Weber/dp/084992183X

 

TRUMP IS A PAGAN?

The word “pagan” is used in various ways.  There are popular and scholarly definitions.  Here, we get one that makes sense to me from Andrew Sullivan (HT: John Fea’s Blog, The Way of Improvement):

Trump is not an atheist, confident yet humble in the search for a God-free morality. He is not an agnostic, genuinely doubtful as to the meaning of existence but always open to revelation should it arrive. He is not even a wayward Christian, as he sometimes claims to be, beset by doubt and failing to live up to ideals he nonetheless holds. The ideals he holds are, in fact, the antithesis of Christianity — and his life proves it. He is neither religious nor irreligious. He is pre-religious. He is a pagan. He makes much more sense as a character in Game of Thrones, a medieval world bereft of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth, than as a president of a modern, Western country.

Every pillar of Trump’s essential character is a cardinal sin for Christians: lust, gluttony, greed, envy, anger, and pride. We are all guilty of these, of course, but there is in Trump a centrality to them, a shame-free celebration of them, that is close to unique in the history of the American presidency. I will never understand how more than half of white Catholics could vote for such a man, or how the leadership of the church could be so terribly silent when such a monster stalks the earth.