Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Books and Old Books, from Steyn to Chesterton

Consistent with the oft-repeated axiom from C.S. Lewis that the reading of new books should be punctuated with the reading of old books in order to avoid the temptation to "chronological snobbery," two books, one in each category, have ruled the reading corner of late.

The first, a relatively new one, America Alone by Mark Steyn (2005?)(been trying to get this one into my queue for a while) is a wakeup call to post-Christian America and the post-Christian church. With Europe as the model, we are offered a step-by-step analysis of the trends weakening us and the cultural suicide of the world as we know it on both sides of the pond. Some quotables...

On the false promise of secularism:
The meek's prospects of inheriting the earth are considerably diminished in a post-Christian society....[quoting Kathy Shaidle] It is secularism itself which is part of the problem, not the solution, since secularism is precisely what created the European spiritual and moral vacuum into which Islamism has rushed headlong.
On the paralyzing effect of European (now American) Socialism:
The trouble with the social democratic state is that when government does too much, nobody else does much of anything.
On the destructiveness of multiculturalism:
But if you think you genuinely believe that suttee [the Indian cultural practice of burning of the living widow along with the deceased husband] is just an example of the rich tapestry of indigenous cultures, you ought to consider what your pleasant suburb would be like if 25, 48% of the people really believed in it too. Multiculturalism was conceived by the Western elites not to celebrate all cultures but to deny their own; it is, thus, the real suicide bomb.
And there is much more, some of it quite entertaining despite the ominous topic. Which brings me to book two, much older, but in a similar vein and as timely as a stimulus package or an auto industry takeover. At Twin Cities Chesterton Society meetings, we've been reading and discussing the outstanding (large) biography of GKC by Maisie Ward (1942). Gilbert Keith Chesterton is a treasure chest of not just his story, but his vision of the world. A major component consists of early unpublished writing, correspondence and quotations. Enormously clever and joyful on many topics and many levels, GKC watched, wrote, waved his sword/walking stick in the air and cried out against England's initial embrace of precisely what we are now embracing—the diminution of religion, tradition and liberty, and the incremental arrival of the the Servile State. A couple of quotes:
We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want one that will move the world. We want one that will move it away from many of the things towards which it is now moving; for instance, the Servile State. It is by that test that history will really judge, of any church, whether it is the real Church or no. —GKC
[Chesterton]...did not think, then or ever, that any increase of comfort or security was a sufficient good to be bought at the price of liberty. —Maisie Ward

Friday, May 15, 2009

No, Mr. President [revisited]
From John Piper, this is a brilliant video adaptation. Pass it on...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Driscoll Watch Continues
As someone who generally welcomes the Reformed Resurgence answer to the reheated liberalism of Emergent, but who is concerned about incipient Christ-obscuring authoritarianism and personality cult lurking in the wings, yet more bold, important, insightful analysis of the MD phenomenon. We need to listen to MacArthur, Phillips, Johnson. So does the strident young preacher in Seattle.

Phillip's review of Driscoll's address at the Gospel Coalition gets close to the heart of what has always troubled me about (enormously successful) guys like this...
And that is what sticks with me and troubles me about Driscoll's talk. It was about him, to a large degree. He was the backdrop, context, and refrain.

I think about the others I've heard. Keller? Preached Christ as the idol-smasher. I didn't have to know anything about Keller. M'man Lig Duncan? Preached Christ's grace and power. I didn't have to know anything about Lig Duncan. Ditto John Piper. Ditto every other I've heard from the conference.

Except Driscoll.
I pray that other mature leaders in this movement will also find courage to help this guy before it's too late. He seems to be surrounded and insulated by layers of young, angry Rehoboam's counselors and enabled by the silence of those who know better but who continue to provide cover.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thank You, Isaac Watts. Thank You Lord.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Place Where It All Started
My daughter Katie is on an extended jaunt through the British Isles, culminating in a short term course of study at Caperwray Bible School in Northern England. She sent me this picture of her in front of The Eagle and Child, one of the legendary haunts of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Barfield and others. Pretty cool.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Welcome Samantha Rose!
Early Sunday morning (3/29) little Samantha (7 lbs. 1 oz.) made her grand entrance. She is wonderful, big brother Will is wondering a little still, and this Grandpax2 is thrilled. Congratulations and love to Nikki, Mark and Will. Early pix:

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Answer, My Friend, Is Blowin' In The Wind
The question: "What sort of facilities does the legendary social critic provide for the peons (no pun intended) who labor on his Malibu estate?"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Favorite Irish Quote
"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."
—William Butler Yeats

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time for Obama's "Pro-Life" Supporters to Face What They've Done

This from moralaccountability.com. Summarized:
Amidst the fawning press coverage of President Obama’s overturning of the Bush stem cell funding policy, it is important to understand a few basic facts about what he has and has not done.

First, the stories about this decision suggest Obama has restored federal policy to what it was before George W. Bush’s 2001 stem cell policy announcement. This is simply not true. The federal government has in fact never before-even under President Clinton-used taxpayer dollars to encourage the destruction of human embryos, as it will now begin to do....

The president’s decision to take the unprecedented step of encouraging the destruction of human embryos with taxpayer dollars every day seems more removed from the scientific and ethical realities of the debate, and from the aspiration that underlay the policy he has chosen to end: that science and ethics might both be championed together, rather than set against one another.
For all the facts and Obamafuscation, read the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Amazon Kindle
Some of us in the book-related business have been pondering for some time our future as designers and purveyors of the traditional paper variety. For me, the simultaneously threatening and intriguing front-runner has been the Kindle; an ebook reader that today arrives in its second iteration. Here's a simultaneously comforting and threatening review in the NYTimes, including this small comfort for book cover designers everywhere:

So, for the thousandth time: is this the end of the printed book?

Don’t be silly.

The Kindle has the usual list of e-book perks: dictionary, text search, bookmarks, clippings, MP3 music playback and six type sizes (baby boomers, arise). No trees die to furnish paper for Kindle books, either.

But as traditionalists always point out, an e-book reader is a delicate piece of electronics. It can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub. You’d have to buy an awful lot of $10 best sellers to recoup the purchase price. If Amazon goes under or abandons the Kindle, you lose your entire library. And you can’t pass on or sell an e-book after you’ve read it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That's the title given to this original piece created in our high chair last week by my grandson Will age c. 15 mos.
Grandpa: "What is it?
Will: "Weesh."

Monday, January 26, 2009

"No, Mr. President..."

I attend Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis when I get the chance. I'm not a Baptist, I've never been a Calvinist. In fact I worry some (and have blogged some) about incipient authoritarianism and other issues among the neo-Calvinists (Mark Driscoll, Sovereign Grace Ministries come to mind) with whom JP is sometimes associated. So I don't fit the category of "Piperite," or Reformed Resurgent or whatever.

But I do love John Piper's preaching, and this one he knocked out of the park. At least listen to/view the 3 minute section starting about 20% in—beginning "No, Mr. President..."

Any concern that in the wake of this historic presidential inauguration Mr. Piper may have become soft on the issue of abortion is here eloquently dispelled.
"He is trapped and blind in a culture of deceit..."
Watch it here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Keeping Tabs on Obama
Francis Beckwith, Hadley Arkes, Robert P. George and others have launched a new website, moralaccountability.com to monitor and analyze the new administration in regard to moral issues; principally abortion policy and the defininiton of marriage question. The first George piece defines the purpose:

The Moral Accountability Project trusts that those self-identified pro-life and pro-marriage Catholics and Evangelicals who helped to put Barack Obama into a position to accomplish his goals were sincere in their admiration for him. We are willing to believe that they genuinely hope that he will go back on his pledges to attack pro-life laws and repeal pro-marriage policies. Still, actions have consequences, and the actions of these intellectuals and activists will have consequences that are all too easy to predict. With each assault of the Obama administration on laws and policies upholding the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage, we will ask all Catholics and Evangelicals, including those who supported Obama, to join us in resisting these assaults. That is what we will do at www.moralaccountability.com.

Our project is offered in a constructive spirit, not one of vilification. Our goal is to help ensure that never again will good intentions conspire with shoddy reasoning and wishful thinking to compromise the rights of the weakest and most vulnerable members of our community and to undermine the institution of marriage. And so in a sincere spirit of friendship, we invite those Catholics and Evangelicals who joined Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and similar organizations in helping Obama join us now in repelling the attacks that will be launched against life and marriage in this administration.

A worthy effort.

The website notes that today will be the day Barack Obama reverses the "Mexico City Policy" which forbids the use of American foreign aid money to kill babies. Even he did not possess the "audacity" to do it yesterday on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

"Evangelicals" who supported the Obama campaign (Emergents Brian McClaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, among many others): The party's over. The Capitol Mall is littered with trash, the promises, platitudes and sophistry rang hollow and then were silent.

Today begins the grim harvest.

Of course Republican politics or politics of any kind are not the hope of the world. But a vote against this was the least you could have done for "the least of these." Can you not see the blood on your hands? May God have mercy on his church. Then, perhaps, on the United States of America.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mark Driscoll, Calvinism and the Philistine Press

It's a good idea for evangelical Christians to occasionally get the perspective of observers on the outside, and there is arguably no vantage point farther outside the boundaries of Evangelical Christianity than the New York Times. Cal Thomas used to say that each day he tried to read the Bible and the NYT, just so he'd know "what both sides were up to."

So when on January 6th, the New York Times ran this piece on "young-restless-Reformed" pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, my interest was piqued.

Coastal media folks typically get a lot of things wrong about the beliefs, distinctions and defining characteristics of conservative Christians—those mysterious, anachronistic denizens of the great fly-over space between NY and the West Coast. Perhaps it was Driscoll's growing presence in the heart of a coastal Philistine stronghold that engendered this rare journalistic curiosity, I don't know.

Critics on the reformed and evangelical side will find things that writer Molly Worthen gets wrong. For example, the Calvinist/Armininian debate. I'm not really a Calvinist, but I do know that rooms full of theological volumes have been written to nuance, resolve and explain seeming contradictions within that theology. Worthen broadbrushes these and some other issues just a little.

What's more unsettling is the amount she gets right. Summarizing at the very end of the article:
Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.
Now this could be taken in a couple of ways. It could be a compliment, it depends on what you mean by "embolden." Think of the (likely apocryphal) quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, "I would rather face 100,000 Italians coming from mass than 1000 Presbyterians rising from their knees." If my Calvin-informed sense of my own "depravity" produces greater humility and greater dependence upon God and leads to fearlessness in service of God and man, good. Humility and boldness are not necessarily at odds. On many levels Driscoll seems to represent that sort of refreshing audacity and courage. Good for him. If it stopped there, everything would be fine.

But Ms. Worthen perceives something else that has been haunting me for some time in regard to the new, young, reformed resurgence; something that the more mature influencers within the movement (Piper, Dever, Carson, MacArthur, Keller and others) desperately need to address. There is another sort of "boldness" that ought to give fellow observers pause. I tried to express it this way, on an earlier post back in May: (apologies for annoying self-quotation!)
...there may be as much to worry about among the young reformed reaction to Emergent. There is a troubling growth of not-very-reformed authoritarian chatter among some of them...Almost as if the right reaction against the emergent loss of scriptural authority is to assert your own authority. Yikes!
What I feared I was sensing in Driscoll and others was not lost on the New York Times (the essential facts, I think, are not disputed). Sometimes "...the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.":
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
They are sinning through questioning? Yikes, indeed. This approach to church leadership has a rather pre-Reformation magisterial stridency about it to say the least! Very sad. I'm not worried about unconventional methods, blunt, even rough language (I like Luther, too) and in-your-face cultural relevance. I am worried about this.

Time for 95 theses on a very hip Seattle warehouse door?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Francis Schaeffer Bios Reviewed
Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary reviews two recent volumes on the significance of Schaeffer's contribution to apologetics and Christian philosophy. He winds it up with this:
I fear that the younger generation of evangelicals do not know enough about the remarkable life and achievements of Francis Schaeffer; instead they are opting for the trendy but intellectually barren hype of much of the emergent church movement-which claims to be "authentic." ("Authentic" often means little more than emotional, unconventional, and obsessively autobiographical.) Many older evangelicals may have forgotten many of the salient lessons from his life and teachings as well. Reading these two new biographies can help rectify this problem. But better yet, one can read or reread Schaeffer's own books and watch his two film series (the ten-part, "How Should We Then Live?" and five-part, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" which are both available on DVD). Indeed, Schaeffer did live an "authentic" life-a life of piety, truth, and courage-worthy of our attention and of our thanksgiving to God.
"Authentic" often means little more than emotional, unconventional, and obsessively autobiographical. Sigh. That is a good description of the spirit of this age isn't it? And it explains "reality" television: one minute of something happening followed by 3 minutes of participants alone with the camera telling us how they felt about that one minute.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rick Warren's Inaugural Prayer
I think the Secret Service would haul him off half-way into this suggested prayer, which begins...
Lord, we begin this year with our heads low and our hearts contrite.
We have neglected your Word and commandments.
Forgive us Lord for embracing “Change” without repentance.
Forgive us for putting “Country First" instead of Christ.
Forgive us for worshiping our presidential choice.
For promoting pragmatism, and endorsing evil...
I'm a little uncertain about the "fiat currency" clause, but love the rest.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Business As Usual in Minnesota
Item: Funny Business in Minnesota. Did anybody really think that the Franken/Ritchie/Star-Tribune consortium would fail to come up with enough votes for the Democrat to win? See the WSJ editorial summary of highly predictable Minnesota electoral shenanigans.
Minnesotans like to think that their state isn't like New Jersey or Louisiana, and typically it isn't. But we can't recall a similar recount involving optical scanning machines that has changed so many votes, and in which nearly every crucial decision worked to the advantage of the same candidate. The Coleman campaign clearly misjudged the politics here, and the apparent willingness of a partisan like Mr. Ritchie to help his preferred candidate, Mr. Franken. If the Canvassing Board certifies Mr. Franken as the winner based on the current count, it will be anointing a tainted and undeserving Senator.
Item: Eagles 26, Vikings 14. Did anybody really think...? From the Star-Tribune's only department still above the waterline:
A playoff berth didn't bring playoff-caliber football from the Vikings, who watched a confident and poised Eagles team rise up and disappoint a packed Dome house.