Archive for September, 2010

On Faith

September 30, 2010

Courtesy of Mike Potemra at The Corner:

“Faith . . . includes the trustful perseverance through the blackness of doubt, uncertainty, despair. Faith is not security away from darkness, it is the will to go on with darkness all around.” — Arthur Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury (1961-74), in God, Christ and the World.

Defending Chesterton

September 27, 2010

Two defenses of Chesterton are out right now, responding to Austin Bramwell’s critique.

Michale Brendon Dougherty does most of the heavy lifting. Among other things, he notes that Chesterton is writing in a more journalistic style and should be judged on the kind of documents they are.

Ross Douthat adds that Chesterton is not a philosophical apologist, instead succeeding at some level precisely because he lacks that kind of rigor, replacing it with a more common mode of justification:

He is not an “irrationalist,” as Bramwell suggests, but he isn’t Plato either. But then again neither are most people: They justify what they believe, whether it’s about God or political order or love or any other aspect of human affairs, based on a mishmash of different facts, ideas, experiences, premises, impulses, and so forth. And Chesterton succeeds as a polemicist, if not as a philosopher, because his style of argument fits so well with this very common, and very natural, way of human thought.

By the way, Dougherty links to an amusing joke at those who make too much of Chesterton.

All this makes me want to pull out Orthodoxy again.

On the future

September 25, 2010

Tyler Cowen provides a rather depressing picture of the future – at least for me. Some are simple policy changes (or lack of changes), but the biggest overall problem is that the status quo is locked in (e.g., entitlements and tax and spending trajectories) so that he predicts a sovereign debt crisis in the US within 20 years. I hope not, but there is good reason to be pessimistic given our political culture. On the other hand, predictions are merely that. His discussion is triggered by Matthew Yglesias’s contention that the expansion of the welfare state is largely over for the foreseeable future. Both posts raise interesting questions about the direction of future political discussions.

For profit vs. Non-profit

September 25, 2010

Tyler Cowen notes the market segmentation of programs: non-profits dominate the liberal arts but for profits do pretty well in vocational and other areas. Why is the important question, one he argues deserves some more attention.

College as No-brainer?

September 25, 2010

David French explains why college may not always be a no-brainer decision.

Core Curriculum

September 25, 2010

George Leef from the Pope Center discusses core curricula, based in part on a study comparing Columbia and Harvard. For those of us committed to some kind of traditional notion of the educated person, it’s worth a look.

A better environmentalism

September 23, 2010

Having pitched in on a critique of one expression of sort-of Christian environmentalism, let me say I’m reading something that’s much better. Jonathan Merritt’s Green Like God is a much more robustly theological discussion which has a lot of solid meat to the discussion. I’m only half way through and I’ll try to put some more detailed commentary on my reading blog shortly, but for now I’ll say it’s one of the better contemporary discussions I’ve seen so far. I’m expecting to interact with issues like: 1) how specific policy initiatives might differ, 2) how to balance preservation and development, 3) how to balance human justice issues with environmental ones, 4) where pragmatics and cost-effectiveness factor in, and perhaps a few other issues. Still, I like the overall shape of the biblical material.

Environmentalism and The Christian Faith

September 21, 2010

An interesting critique of a CCCU pamphlet on the environment (entitled Green Awakenings) by Kathleen Nielson at the Gospel Coalition Blog. In a few places I wonder if the critique was perhaps overly strong. For example, arguing that the fact a booklet about the environment does not talk about abortion suggests human life is being devalued may not be justified by this evidence. It may be true in some places – but this doesn’t seem to be the place for a discussion of balancing abortion with the environment as public policy issues. Moreover, I think that balancing is complicated by issues like what can be accomplished and other factors far too complex to deal with in such a short post.

The critique of the forward’s confusing (at best) theology seems more warranted, and of course there is a need for cautionary notes as to where the emphasis is. How much should we focus on the environment and what should that focus look like as we deal with the full range of Christian responsibilities? Is there danger of being swallowed up in a de facto worship of the earth. At the very least, careless language is properly noted.

Moreover, in looking at all of the initiatives and the overall booklet I do feel like this could be an NPR or Greenpeace marketing peace to an uncomfortable degree. In other words, what is distinctively Christian about these efforts? Which gets to the final critique – we need to set this in context of the overall biblical story and the lack of clarity about this in the pamphlet could produce a few moments of anxiety for some of us. Here’s a key part of the argument:

Ultimately, what is missing in a vision of renewal such as we find in Green Awakenings is a clear, openly stated understanding of the centrality of Jesus Christ. Such a vision can never clearly articulate the beginning of the story without the starting point of the second person of the Trinity as the one through whom and for whom all things were created. Such a vision can never clearly articulate the story’s climax of redemption without celebrating the Redeemer promised from the beginning, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Such a vision cannot conceive of the true crisis looming ahead, which is the coming of Jesus Christ to judge the world. That coming will indeed bring an environmental crisis, as “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

I have no doubt that many of the individuals, programs and institutions which are highlighted in the pamphlet do precisely this. It’s unfortunate that it’s a lot less clear than it ought to be in this document.

The Inerrancy Battle Renews – or does it?

September 18, 2010

Al Mohler recently argued that we continue to face an attack on inerrancy. Here’s his take on Pete Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation.

Recently, Professor Peter Enns, formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has argued that the biblical authors clearly erred. He has argued that Paul, for example, was clearly wrong in assuming the historicity of Adam. In Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, published in 2005, he presented an argument for an “incarnational” model of biblical inspiration and authority. But in this rendering, incarnation — affirming the human dimension of Scripture — means accepting some necessary degree of error.

I’m not sure I accept his depiction of Enns’ work. Much of what Enns does is point out what most evangelical scholars agree about on how scripture was (or at least most likely was) created and interacted with surrounding culture and suggest we haven’t really thought about what this means for our theology of inspiration. While I’d quibble here and there, his larger point is right and his intent as I understood it was to help encourage people wrestling with these real problems. I’ve had conversations with scholars at several very conservative/fundamental schools who found Enns not that threatening. Perhaps they and I are wrong, but the varied responses to the book suggest something else may be at work.

At the other extreme, Roger Olson (a former colleague at Bethel University) argues that inerrancy isn’t really that important. His evidence is worth considering. On the one hand, by the time it is qualified and we hear all the actual understanding of many inerrantists, they might as well not even argue for the position. On the other hand, many historically venerated evangelicals did not affirm inerrancy; making it a shibboleth may be a mistake.

I wonder if these quite divergent arguments and the energy surrounding them may be symptomatic of deep fault lines within the evangelical tradition. I guess we will see…


September 18, 2010

Pete Enns has been doing an interesting series on Literalism over at Biologos. It’s an important issue where the answer is more often assumed than thought about. The introduction is here. His basic thesis is that Christians are wrong to assume a default literalism. In response to that assumption (and the fear of the slippery slope safeguarded by it) he says:

As compelling as this logic might seem, it runs up against some significant problems. Those problems are generated by the Bible itself. That doesn’t mean a totally literal interpretation of the Bible is always wrong and interpreting the Bible is some subjective freefall. But it does mean that literalism is not the default position that Christians should take.

He develops this in a couple of additional posts looking at the particularities of the text in 1 Chronicles. Similar considerations can be applied to the gospels of course. Worth reflecting on.