Archive for April, 2015

A Wonderful Chart

April 27, 2015

The history of the world in a single chart. This makes me think of the pile of books sitting near me by Edward Tufte that discuss the visual display of information (like this, this, this, and this; and then there’s this on Powerpoint). Some thoughtful reflection might be in order for those of us who present data…

Cause of Addiction

April 27, 2015

This is an interesting discussion of the cause of addiction. Here’s the key argument:

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

Not sure if this is the full answer and no doubt it will be debated. But it is certainly a tantalizing suggestion.

Naming a Church

April 27, 2015

We joke a lot about church names at our house. But this video pretty much gets it.

Coptic Church and Chalcedon

April 21, 2015

From a while back, a pretty balanced take on the Coptic church (which has been in the news off and on recently) and Chalcedon. Some interesting theological history and implications.

The Early Church and the Atonement

April 20, 2015

Michael Kruger recently posted an argument for early historical for substitutionary atonement. The whole topic is a big one, I will say up front that substitution is affirmed by most of the patristic writers, I think. But a friend referred me to his article and here’s a few thoughts:

1) I sense a bit of cherry-picking data, here. I don’t have time to chase it down, but something is not quite right (only 1 document looked at and it’s quite short – only about 8 pages in a standard single spaced page, I believe). From this he is making a case about the patristic view of the atonement?
2) Given the size and nature of this work, can one take several different statements and weave together an accurate representation of the author’s system of thought? I am skeptical, especially in a document which is clearly apologetic in focus. It is not really a dogmatic or systematic treatment of any doctrine. So, for example, is a rather generic statement on the seriousness of sin really evidence for a particular view of the atonement? And similar things can be said about some other points he makes.
Kruger gives a bit of it away by saying that “key elements” of the substitutionary view were present and that these ideas [substitution and imputation] were present “in seed form.” [A notion sometimes suggested – ill-advisedly in my view – by dispensationalists about the dispensational system, a claim I would suspect Kruger would dismiss out of hand – and one I am somewhat skeptical of, as well]
3) There’s a bit of hand-waving here and there. Substitution has always been part of the Christian conversation (it’s biblical language, too!), but the Reformed view is penal substitution, which requires a particular configuration of beliefs (substitution, penalty, etc.). I wish that distinction had been more clearly made (I don’t think a lot of the audience will catch this). I’m suspicious when I see that the substitutionary passage he quotes uses ransom language (which is often associated in the early church with other atonement views). And note how Kruger assumes the payment must be made to God because we deserved punishment (hardly the standard view of the payment in the early church). Similar with imputation – use of the language and affirmation of a particular theological construct which includes that language are not the same. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.
4) Until the Reformation, it seems to me (and I’ve read a bit), there is more fluidity on the doctrine than some are comfortable with. Even the infamous Abelard had a rather complex view of the atonement. Here’s a hymn text by him (Alone thou goest forth):
1 Alone thou goest forth, O Lord,
in sacrifice to die;
is this thy sorrow naught to us
who pass unheeding by?
2 Our sins, not thine, thou bearest, Lord;
make us thy sorrow feel,
till through our pity and our shame
love answers love’s appeal.
I see in these two stanzas substitution, moral influence, and sacrifice at least (a bit surprising given how we normally describe Abelard’s view). I would suspect the same would be true of almost all the early patristic writers. However, those who wrote more extensively frequently refer to things like mousetraps and fishhooks and payment to Satan, too. Not that I find those ideas helpful, but they are there. Ignoring them will not lead to a full understanding.
I personally find that more complex perspective the best approach today (the kaleidoscope view it is sometimes called; various views, each of which brings out aspects of the great work of the atonement – but none of which by itself fully explains or exhausts it). That doesn’t mean penal substitution can’t be one lens, but it is not by any means the only one – or even one fully actualized in the patristic reflections.
Just my take.

When Cultures Shift

April 20, 2015

David Brooks on some interesting cultural swings. Serious implications. From the last paragraph:

The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up.

Too Many Books?

April 20, 2015

You probably know my answer to this question.

The Golden Ratio – another myth?

April 20, 2015

A reminder that many of ideas passed around as true don’t have much of basis in reality.

Perspectives on the Indiana Debate

April 14, 2015

Now that religious freedom has become a hotly debated thing (which is odd, given I used to depend on the left-leaning justices of the Supreme Court to help protect it), what is the future. Here’s a collection of some articles that touched on elements of the debate.

From the Reclaiming the Mission Blog, here’s a more progressive Christian take. It urges Christians to avoid being part of ideological battles. There’s a point there, but I wonder if there can be peace on this issue given the current social and political climate.

I think that is the point (or at least part) of Ross Douthat’s set of questions. Where are there boundaries? Presumably for most there are some limits, but no one seems to be able to describe where state mandated requirements will end.

Which leads to Kevin Williamson’s essay about the war on the private mind. Perhaps this is the endgame, at least for some. Here’s an interesting comparison:

Like Antiochus and the Jews, the game here is to “oblige them to partake of the sacrifices” and “adopt the customs” of the rulers. We are not so far removed in time as we imagine: Among the acts intended to Hellenize the Jews was a ban on circumcision, a proposal that is still very much alive in our own time, with authorities in several European countries currently pressing for that prohibition.

So back to Douthat and his interview with a Christian. More or less a self-interview. With a balanced and thoughtful Christian defense of traditional Christian teaching.

Perhaps we will need to end up with the Benedict option. Not for the first time in Christian history.

And then there’s one essay asking what is driving the intensity of the debate. Could it be Selma envy? There’s at least something to the notion, though it is certainly not the whole story.

We live in interesting times.

Corporate America and Christian America

April 13, 2015

Jonathan Merritt interviews Kevin Kruse on his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate American Invented Christian America. For those who know history, the early stuff is not so new. Some of the information about more recent events – especially the role of Corporate America in pushing a Christian America theme – may be more surprising. Here’s his key observation:

Most of the markers that Americans invoke when they argue that we are one [a Christian nation] – the words “under God” in the pledge, the national motto of “In God We Trust,” the National Prayer Breakfast, the National Day of Prayer, etc. – are creations of the modern era and, more specifically, creations of corporate America.