April 14, 2014
Here is a lovely little rendition of a favorite hymn, from Give Us Rest by David Crowder Band:
Against the malady of cookie-cutter praise music in the 00′s, I really enjoyed David Crowder Band, even if the quality was somewhat inconsistent on any given album — though A Collision is nearly perfect. His love for Christ was matched by a thoughtful approach to worship, full of creativity and wonder. I am glad to see that his first solo album is due next month: Neon Steeple.
April 11, 2014
I recently taught a Sunday school class on postmodernism, critical theory, and identity politics — building off of prior classes, especially Hegel’s historicizing of the absolute and Feuerbach’s anthropology of religion. (Once you remove the universal in Hegel’s historicism, with the help of a couple world wars in Europe, postmodernism was inevitable.) I even introduced Foucault’s Panopticon! It is actually not very difficult to communicate these ideas, because cultural illustrations are abundant. I had mentioned off-hand that affluent Westerners are too busy cultivating their personal identities to bother with having families. With some time to waste the other day, I was curious to get some recent numbers. The most helpful that I found is the CIA World Factbook, comparing the population and fertility data of the world’s nations.
You can scroll down to see the fertility rates of European countries. Finland and Denmark are 1.73. Switzerland is 1.54. Spain is 1.48. Austria and Germany are 1.43. Italy is 1.42. Greece is 1.41. The replacement rate needs to be 2.1, a little more than two births per woman. The UK is slightly better than others at 1.9, and France is 2.08 (presumably helped by African immigration). The US is in this range at 2.01. You can also click on the country and analyze more details. For example, Germany not only has an abysmal fertility rate at 1.43, but the median age is 46.1 and the mother’s mean age at first birth is 28.9. Germany’s religiously unaffiliated are 28.3% of the population, in a country where the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches (tied at 34% each) still include a high number of nominal membership.
These numbers will become increasingly important, if not already at a crisis point, and they should be of particular interest to Christians. Mary Eberstadt has received a lot of attention for her latest book, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Her thesis is that the decline of the family precipitated the decline of religion, not the other way around — or, at least, that they are interdependent. You can read a good synopsis of the book at The Imaginative Conservative.
Meanwhile, the bright lights of the Protestant mainline have been making their bed with the feminist ideology that will only further accelerate their demographic free-fall. I appreciate Rod Dreher’s related thoughts in a TAC article last year:
It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether.
This raises a critically important question: is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force? …
Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.
April 9, 2014
Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism is full of wonderful moments of insight and careful scrutiny. I can hardly believe that he was only 25 years old when he delivered it as a lecture in 1844, soon after his move to America from Berlin. Even at this early period in his scholarship, his mastery of both history and dogmatics is well on display. This would later find expression in his massive work within patristics and church history, which are consulted to this day.
His admiration for the German theology in which he was trained is balanced by an appropriate caution. He knows the pitfalls well, but he refuses to find refuge in either a subjectivism or objectivism, as he terms them. He is opposed to rationalism but also to its counterpart in sectarianism, his label for a degenerate pietism. Both are rooted in a false subjective freedom: respectively, “theoretic subjectivism” and “practical subjectivism.” And he is equally opposed to a false objectivism, whether of the Roman Catholic (or Oxford Movement) sort or the repristinated Protestant sort. This is most fully developed in part two (p. 125ff). It is easy to see affinities with Karl Barth from the following century.
Thus, it is characteristic to find Schaff both appreciative and critical of Schleiermacher and Hegel, and he has a particular admiration for the mediating theologies of Karl Immanuel Nitzsch and Isaak August Dorner, among others. To give you a taste, Schaff defends the significance of German theology with great energy:
But the proper home of Protestant theology is Germany, and hence we may say that those who refuse to take account of German theology, set themselves in fact against the progress of Protestantism. The land which gave birth to the Reformation stands pledged by that movement itself not to rest till the great work shall have been made complete, when the revelation of God in Christ shall be apprehended in full and the contents of faith shall be reduced to such form as to carry with them also the clearest evidence and most incontrovertible certainty in the way of knowledge. We wish not to depreciate in the least the merits acquired in former times, by the Dutch and the English in particular, in the way of biblical study — critical, exegetical, and antiquarian. The German is always disposed rather to put an undue value on what is foreign, and has long since appropriated the results of these investigations and worked them into the process of his own cultivation. But what is all this beside the gigantic creations of German theology! All its heresies cannot destroy my respect for it. In England and America one learns first to prize it according to its true worth. It must not be forgotten that even the German rationalism, worthy of all reprobation as it is, gives evidence, at least in its better forms, of an extraordinary scientific energy and a deep interest in the investigation of truth, from which we are authorized to draw a favorable conclusion on the opposite side. For only an archangel can become a devil. As England and America would not have been able at all to produce so fearful an enemy of Christianity as David Friedrich Strauss, so must they have been much less able to meet him with a proper refutation; and I shudder at times to think of the desolation his writings must occasion, if they should come to be much read — which may God prevent — in this country. It must be borne in mind also on the other side that there is a species of orthodoxy, by no means rare, which rests upon the foundation of mere convenience or intellectual indolence, or the lowest motive possibly of self-interest, and is consequently no whit better, yea by reason of such hypocrisy in its constitution is even much worse, than open and honest unbelief.
And most interestingly, he continues by comparing the developments in German theology with that of the early church, in her quest for doctrinal clarity amidst false paths exposed by heresies:
If we look into church history, we shall be still less disturbed in our estimate of German theology by the heretical elements that belong to it, since they must appear to us only as negative conditions of a new doctrinal conquest. Thus the full determination and clear, close definition of the doctrines of the Trinity and of the relation of the two natures in Christ, as exhibited to us in the ecumenical councils, were conditioned throughout by a succession of heresies in the direction of these articles. The Pelagian error must serve, in the hand of God, to unfold and establish more profoundly, through Augustine, the doctrine of divine grace and human liberty. At the Reformation also heretical tendencies, Socinianism, Anabaptism, antinomianism, and so on, come into view; as in a period of such vast excitement was to be expected. They wrought with salutary force on the development of orthodox Protestantism, making it necessary for it to understand more clearly its own commission, to discriminate more closely its proper sphere, and to fortify itself against unauthorized consequences and various misapprehensions of its true character.
[The Principle of Protestantism, trans. John W. Nevin, pp. 202-203]
If you enjoyed that, you may also be interested in Schaff’s survey of German universities and theologians, published in 1857: Germany: Its Universities, Theology, and Religion.
Image: “Weimar’s Courtyard of the Muses” by Theobald von Oer
April 7, 2014
Oh yes, there is a Presbyterian tobacco blend! And it is fantastic, in my completely unbiased opinion. You can listen to a podcast review of the blend from Country Squire Radio, with some Calvinist jokes for good measure. If your local tobacconist does not have any, you should shame them and then purchase it from McCranie’s.
April 6, 2014
The church is “the description of an event,” according to Barth, the gathering of a people by “the living Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit” (IV.1, 650). The church is thereby always a miracle. She does not exist or thrive by the ingenuity of man, even though she is susceptible to all of the standard historical tools of cultural analysis at our disposal. The Christian knows what the anthropologist could never discern – that the church is always freely given by grace. The sola gratia of the Reformation applies to the church just as much as it does to our justification and sanctification. Indeed, the true splendor of the church is “the glory of the Lord justifying man and of man justified by the Lord” (657). All other collectives or societies, political or otherwise, seek to maintain and promote some human good. This “society,” the church, is where God seeks and maintains our human good. It is not our achievement, and this society publicly confesses her incapacity to discern this good, much less to maintain it amidst our pride and rebellion.
The purpose of Christ’s work of reconciliation is that a people may be sanctified and brought into a familial relationship with the Father. Thus, our salvation is not individual but communal: “the collective is the purpose” (688). There is no salvation without this entry into a community of “saints,” as Paul addressed his churches. There is no salvation that may bypass our entry into the church. The real presence of Christ is found in the church, and Barth even goes as far to say that the church is “the earthly-historical form of the existence of Jesus Christ Himself” (661). The Christian discovers Christ in his “body,” the church, and she is thereby constituted in this body for the sake of witnessing to Christ in this world. It is in this sense that the church is “essential.” But the “body” remains his body. The church does not guarantee this essence from its own authority, as if Christ “handed over” this responsibility to the church. We can trust that the church shall always prevail against the darkness at her borders (Mt 16.18), but this is not the church’s own doing – indeed, it is very much in spite of the church’s own doing! It is God’s good pleasure that alone ensures the continuing existence of the church. Christ sustains his bride, the church, from his heavenly throne, so that the freedom of his grace may be established on earth as it is in heaven.
The church as the bride of Christ and the body of Christ are fascinating images, seemingly in contrast. As bride, the church is distinct from Christ; as body, the church is identified with Christ (indeed, “as” Christ in some sense, though Protestants are rightly wary at this point). Yet, if we follow the nuptial union (à la Ephesians 5) then the bride and the bridegroom are united in “one flesh,” and this allows us to bring both the “bride” and “body” images together. The church is the body of Christ because she has been joined with Christ as his bride, forming “one flesh” out of two.
Image: “Beato Angelico Annunciazione” by Fra Angelico (1395-1455), San Marco Museum, Florence
April 5, 2014
The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”
William F. Buckley, Jr, Boston Globe, Sep 13, 1964
Ah, you gotta love Buckley. Okay, admittedly this was the early Beatles, not the critically acclaimed later material (1967-69), of which I am not fond either. Buckley was not alone in his criticisms of this British invasion, some of which were hilarious:
Visually they are a nightmare, tight, dandified Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near disaster, guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah”) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments….
Newsweek, Feb 24, 1964
The Liverpool lunacy is merely the 1964 version of a mild disease which periodically sweeps across the country as the plagues of the Middle Ages once did. In its current manifestation it is characterized by an excessive hair growth, an inability to recognize melody, a highly emotional state with severe body twitches and a strange accent that is more American Southwest than Mersey dockside…. So now it’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “yeah, yeah, yeah.” The disease is at the height of its virulence, but the fever will subside and the victims may receive immunity for life from fads.
Boston Globe, Feb 16, 1964
You can read more at the Los Angeles Times, which complied the quotes for an op-ed a couple months ago. The real British invasion should have happened five years later:
Led Zeppelin (1969)
April 3, 2014
I have really tried to keep this blog from becoming another source for lamentations about the cultural shifts of the last few years, though I have touched upon it here and there. There are plenty of blogs that do a fine job chronicling these matters, but this is particularly disturbing:
The CEO of Mozilla/Firefox was pressured (i.e., “forced,” as it happens in today’s Foucauldian utopia) to step down. What was his horrendous crime? He donated $1,000 to Proposition 8 in California a few years back. So this is what “tolerance” looks like:
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. [from the Mozilla blog's statement on the departure]
Uh huh, sure. Once you conform to our conception of “equality,” then you are worthy to be heard. Brilliant. I love it when liberals give the game away.
Slate also published an editorial last year for the legalization of polygamy. I really do appreciate their clarity of thought.
“Christian” in the title includes evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, and I could include Orthodox Jews and pretty much every Muslim. There are even a number of libertarian skeptics who hate feminism more than I do.
Ryan T. Anderson has some good thoughts on the situation:
For some who favor the redefinition of marriage, tolerance appears to have been a useful rhetorical device along the way to eliminating dissent.
Eich, on the other hand, seems to have been quite tolerant. As Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, commenting on the development, said of Eich’s 15 years at Mozilla:
I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness.”
The outrageous treatment of Eich is the result of one private, personal campaign contribution to support marriage as a male-female union, a view affirmed at the time by President Barack Obama, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, and countless other prominent officials. After all, Prop 8 passed with the support of 7 million California voters.
So was President Obama a bigot back when he supported marriage as the union of a man and woman? And is characterizing political disagreement on this issue—no matter how thoughtfully expressed—as hate speech really the way to find common ground and peaceful co-existence?
Sure, the employees of Mozilla—which makes Firefox, the popular Internet browser— have the right to protest a CEO they dislike, for whatever reason. But are they treating their fellow citizens with whom they disagree civilly? Must every political disagreement be a capital case regarding the right to stand in civil society?
When Obama “evolved” on the issue just over a year ago, he insisted that the debate about marriage was legitimate. He said there are people of goodwill on both sides.
Supporters of marriage as we’ve always understood it (a male-female union) “are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective,” Obama explained. “They’re coming at it because they care about families.”
And “a bunch of ‘em are friends of mine,” the president added. “… you know, people who I deeply respect.”
You can read the rest: “Eich is Out. So is Tolerance.”
Matt Walsh has his characteristically straightforward and energetic response.
April 2, 2014
The false gods are not capable of becoming something less than their exalted and powerful selves – of becoming unworthy of the honor that is their due. They cannot become lowly, for who would cast his lots with a lowly god? Who would worship a lowly god? Therefore, these gods must not and cannot enter “into the far country” – our world of sin and shame and death. The false gods must remain apart and must never become “neighbor to man” (CD IV.1, p. 159). These gods are worshiped and adored precisely because they are not mundane and weak and pathetic as us. Moreover, these gods must not humble themselves to something lower than themselves, an obvious betrayal of their strength and glory. They are what we most desire of ourselves – self-sufficient and healthy and in control, subject to no one.
Man must become divine (through spiritual exercises that sublimate finitude), but the divine must never become man. The “divinity” that is proper to their majesty is incapable of becoming meek and burdened with the load of another. Natural man does not want to carry such burdens, much less would the gods they honor. “In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it” (Ibid.). Barth identifies these gods as a “reflection” of the worshipper, because the gods are a projection of their own desires. They worship themselves through their religious practices. By contrast, the God who made covenant with man is one who condescended to be a neighbor to man, to come alongside him in his hostility to Himself. This is the God who defines his own majesty as one of humility. God does not change from one into the other – for from eternity God is the humble One who became flesh: “for God it is just as natural to be lowly as it is to be high” (192).
This humility contrasts with the elemental sin of human pride. The false gods of our own construction have all of the features that we most admire within ourselves, if only we were not limited and bound to forces out of our control. This sin of pride is overcome in the humility of the Son, wherein the Lord becomes servant to man. Man’s pride rejects this God, so man rejected the Son and put him on the Cross. This is God’s judgment on man, a judgment borne in his flesh and destroyed in the same flesh. His death was the death of this sin — the sin of all.
Image: “The Mocking of Christ” by Fra Angelico (1395-1455)
April 2, 2014
A couple years ago, I offered some meager reflections on the debates surrounding Mumford & Sons. I sided with the negative critics. I still do, even more now than then. I revisited Jordan Bloom’s article. Their “sincerity” is really what drives me crazy — the need to really “feel” a thought before you express it. This is a plague in our day, and it is why our “art” sucks. You have artists interrogating their emotional landscape, projecting it onto the world, and calling it authentic. It then gets marketed to benighted consumers, eager to identify with the same authenticity and to parade it to their peers. And then there’s the music – as if the Beatles didn’t do enough to destroy American folk music.
In Jordan Bloom’s criticisms, he rightly parallels this phenomenon with the trajectory of church music toward therapeutic kitsch. They’re both cheap, easy, and disposable, which is what the consumer wants — whether in the church or at a concert, as if there is any difference anymore.
If you really want to know what a bearded troubadour of love should sound like, here is one of America’s greatest songwriters:
If you do not find this as “inspiring’ or “uplifting” as a Mumford song, then I should pray for your soul.
April 1, 2014
Among the many, many reviews of Noah, Brian Mattson has the most fascinating:
He identifies a number of overtly Gnostic themes in the film, rather well-executed under the guise of a biblical story. If I can get around to seeing the film, I will be interested to see how much of Mattson’s interpretation holds. I have had a longstanding interest in Gnosticism since my undergraduate days of religious theory and Simone Weil. I am both sympathetic and hostile, as my ambiguous love for Weil testifies.