January 31, 2012
I am not one to parrot conservative rhetoric about big government, and the health care controversy has elicited some of the most vociferous rhetoric to date. Well, I have to say that all the rhetoric about how the government, once given the power, will suppress religious liberty, not just economic liberty — all that rhetoric was correct! As you should know by now, Obama has refused after repeated appeals from the bishops to allow an exception for religious employers in the new health care law, which requires all insurance plans to supply contraceptives, along with sterilization procedures and the morning after pill. There are a lot of excellent commentaries on this legislation and what it means for religious liberty, but (not surprisingly) Ross Douthat in the New York Times has the clearest entry I’ve read thus far (ht: Matthew Lee Anderson):
Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.
The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause. They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.
The more the federal government becomes an instrument of culture war, the greater the incentive for both conservatives and liberals to expand its powers and turn them to ideological ends. It is Catholics hospitals today; it will be someone else tomorrow.
The White House attack on conscience is a vindication of health care reform’s critics, who saw exactly this kind of overreach coming. But it’s also an intimation of a darker American future, in which our voluntary communities wither away and government becomes the only word we have for the things we do together.
January 12, 2012
I love Joe Scarborough. He’s the only political commentator on television that I’ll actually identify with. His morning show on MSNBC has, far and away, the longest and most in-depth segments on cable news, often clocking-in at more than 10 minutes (which is remarkable for news networks). Here is a segment with Cornel West this morning, discussing poverty [UPDATE: the link no longer works]. I appreciate Joe’s laudatory assessment of young evangelicals, a little past the 9 minute mark. The recent massive Passion conference is a good illustration of his point.
October 12, 2011
Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve graced this blog with my presence!
As some of you know, I moved back to Charlotte in order to attend RTS, with the ultimate goal of completing an MDiv and being ordained. It’s now fall break, so I finally have some time to catch my breath. As it may be of some interest to readers of this blog, here are a few quick thoughts on RTS thus far. I’ll begin with the least important (the campus) and move to the most important (the faculty).
The campus: I’ve proposed importing ivy to let it grow on our (otherwise boring) brick buildings, but I’ve yet to capture others with my vision. On a more serious note, the greatness of the Charlotte campus is not the campus itself — though it is adequate and generally pleasant — but the location: the nicest, most gorgeous part of Charlotte. The drive down Providence Road is a series (every half mile it seems) of lovely Protestant churches built in the early 20th century, the last great days of romanticism, before rectangles and cement became the fashion of the day.
The students: I’ve never believed the silly stereotype of Calvinists as ornery, dour, heartless curmudgeons. I’ve never believed it because I’ve never really seen it, and I’ve been around Calvinists my whole life. I won’t apologize for certain overly-enthusiastic Reformed bloggers out there; I’m just talking about the real world. So, yeah, I wasn’t surprised to meet fellow students who were pretty much the same as at any other evangelical seminary. There’s a range of personalities and interests. We even have extroverts (while us introverts sulk in our superiority). The denominational make-up is, no surprise, heavily Presbyterian. The PCA is probably the most represented among the students (thanks to all the RUF interns) but the ARP is very strong here as well. In much smaller numbers, the EPC and PCUSA round out the Presbyterian presence. Apart from the Presbys, there are a number of Baptists, Ev-Free’s, independents, et cetera.
The faculty: I can’t make an assessment on the faculty as a whole, since I’ve yet to have every faculty member (like Dr. Kelly in systematics or Dr. Currid in biblical studies). But of the professors I’ve had, I’ve been rather impressed. I’ll just use two examples:
Dr. Donald Fortson, professor of church history, is exactly what a church history professor should be: ecumenical and gracious. As a student of history, he is obviously convinced that evangelicals are impoverished by their lack of historical vision, which can be recovered by recovering the Reformers’ understanding of the Church as our mother (yes, he quotes Calvin on this). In a few weeks, our class will take a field trip to a Greek Orthodox church. From what I understand, Dr. Fortson has a mainline Presbyterian background (PCUSA) but has left for the EPC, thanks in no small part to the events leading to the removal of the fidelity-and-chastity clause in the ordination standards. Trust me, this move by the PCUSA is an often-referenced topic on campus.
Dr. Michael Kruger teaches New Testament courses, and his lectures are something to behold. I’ve never seen a professor with such a commanding presence and control over his material. He doesn’t miss a beat. Yet, he has a great sense of humor and warmth. He wittily, but seriously, deconstructs all the controversies in Gospel criticism (that’s the class I’m taking with him) with piercing incision and brilliant rhetorical flair. I’m a fan. I really hope that RTS will someday record his Gospels lectures for the iTunes store. Moreover, like all the professors, Dr. Kruger is ordained (PCA) and active in his church, thus enabling him to make fruitful connections to pastoral ministry in his lectures.
That’s my brief rundown of RTS-Charlotte. It’s too early to formulate any real criticisms, though I’m sure I’ll have some. Obviously I would like to see more Barth — at least a mural or something.
August 10, 2011
Honestly, I have never heard of “pregnancy reduction.” Maybe I’m just too naive. Apparently it’s on the upswing in the consumer infant market. You really must read this article from the New York Times:
As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
Read the rest. I was horrified. The author was not. The mother understood quite well what was going on (“consumerish”), but the ethic of personal well-being prevails.
April 30, 2011
February 11, 2011
The Kentucky Senate passed a bill to include the teaching of the Bible as a part of the curriculum in public schools. It still needs to pass in the House in order to become law. This is nothing new, of course. There are already several school districts across the country that allow courses in the Bible, as long as it is taught from an “academic, scientific, historical” standpoint. The curious thing about all this is that evangelical Christians are the ones leading the charge to get these measures passed. These Christians have a rather naive view of the Bible, with its intrinsic power to convert or, at the least, contribute to the moral fabric of society. They would be rather shocked to see the Bible under the microscope, subject to the critical tools as regards to sources and redaction. Their vision of the public school Bible teacher is basically a Sunday school teacher who is not allowed to say “I love Jesus,” but everything else will be the same. They are sadly mistaken. I’m not one to fret about historical-critical quandaries, but I’m not so sure that the average Christian child and youth will be able to process them adequately.
Please note that I’m not dissing critical tools; I’m definitely more liberal than a lot of evangelicals on such matters. But, as a Christian, the Bible is a confessional document of the church, set apart by God for the equipping of the saints. The Bible’s object is God; that is its content, which is not known as neutral observers. This is not to say that the Bible is exempt from rational and scientific tools, which rightly used are complementary, not necessarily hostile. But apart from faith, they become hostile. Fundamentally, there is no neutral ground: that is the depth of our rebellion.
September 7, 2010
Here’s a break from theology.
Hulu is streaming the classic courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution (1957), starring Charles Laughton with lots of wit and humor. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this performance. Unfortunately for Laughton, Witness was released the same year as Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness, who would win both the Oscar and the Globe for best actor. Bridge also beat Witness for best picture at both events. Laughton, though, already had an Oscar for his performance several years earlier as Henry VIII.
Two more reasons why Witness is so good: it was based on a short story by Agatha Christie and was directed by Billy Wilder.
August 18, 2010
I really don’t care about Anne Rice’s oh-so-typical “spiritual but not religious” manifestos. I hear it enough from co-workers. However, I did find her comments on conservative biblical scholars to be interesting and worth passing along. This is from her recent interview with Christianity Today:
Are there any other religious authors you read?
I read theology and biblical scholarship all the time. I love the biblical scholarship of D.A. Carson. I very much love Craig S. Keener. His books on Matthew and John are right here on my desk all the time. I go to Craig Keener for answers because his commentary on Scripture is so thorough. I still read N.T. Wright. I love the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. I love his writing on Jesus Christ. It’s very beautiful to me, and I study a little bit of it every day. Of course, I love Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
You mentioned D.A. Carson, Craig Keener, and N.T. Wright. They are fairly conservative Protestants.
Sometimes the most conservative people are the most biblically and scholastically sound. They have studied Scripture and have studied skeptical scholarship. They make brilliant arguments for the way something in the Bible reads and how it’s been interpreted. I don’t go to them necessarily to know more about their personal beliefs. It’s the brilliance they bring to bear on the text that appeals to me. Of all the people I’ve read over the years, it’s their work that I keep on my desk. They’re all non-Catholics, but they’re believers, they document their books well, they write well, they’re scrupulously honest as scholars, and they don’t have a bias. Many of the skeptical non-believer biblical scholars have a terrible bias. To them, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, so there’s no point in discussing it. I want someone to approach the text and tell me what it says, how the language worked.
August 11, 2010
Well, I’ve been away from blogging for several weeks now. I went on vacation — back to North Carolina and then to the mountains — and I just sort of forgot about blogging. Anyway, I’ll get back into it. For now, here are some noteworthy articles related to the recent resurgence of interest in homosexual unions/marriage.
“Gay Marriage” by Carl Trueman, Westminster Theological Seminary
“For people like myself, now in middle age, dislike of homosexuality came with the territory; our reasons for opposing it were more to do with our own cultural backgrounds than with any biblical argumentation. Our opinions on the issue may have happened to coincide at points with biblical teaching, but that was more by accident than design. We were basically bigots and we needed to change.”
“Those evangelical leaders, academics and evangelical institutions that prize their place at the table and their invitations to appear on `serious’ television programs, and who enjoy being asked to offer their opinion to the wider culture had better be prepared to make a choice. As I have said before in this column, we are not far from the place where to oppose homosexuality will be regarded as in the same moral bracket as white supremacy.”
“The End of Marriage in Scandinavia” by Stanley Kurtz
This is a rather long article on the social scientific data related to the Scandinavian separation of marriage and procreation, a separation which has encouraged the normativity of homosexual and multi-sexual relationships. Here is an excerpt:
“Kari Moxnes, a feminist sociologist specializing in divorce, is one of the most prominent of Norway’s newly emerging group of public social scientists. As a scholar who sees both marriage and at-home motherhood as inherently oppressive to women, Moxnes is a proponent of nonmarital cohabitation and parenthood. In 1993, as the Norwegian legislature was debating gay marriage, Moxnes published an article, “Det tomme ekteskap” (“Empty Marriage”), in the influential liberal paper Dagbladet. She argued that Norwegian gay marriage was a sign of marriage’s growing emptiness, not its strength. Although Moxnes spoke in favor of gay marriage, she treated its creation as a (welcome) death knell for marriage itself. Moxnes identified homosexuals–with their experience in forging relationships unencumbered by children–as social pioneers in the separation of marriage from parenthood. In recognizing homosexual relationships, Moxnes said, society was ratifying the division of marriage from parenthood that had spurred the rise of out-of-wedlock births to begin with.”
“So What? How Does Homosexual Marriage Affect Me?” by R. Scott Clark, Westminster Seminary California
“Not only is the term “parent” being re-defined but, of course, the basic natural definition of “family” is necessarily being re-defined to include homosexual marriages and homosexual parenting. This is not an insistence upon small nuclear families as a definition of marriage but it is an insistence that family and marriage have something to do with objective, natural reality. I understand that the way we often think of “family” as a small nuclear unit is the product of modern social forces and even of marketing and mass media but the older idea of family (including extended family and even, if we go back to the classical and biblical periods, of household servants) was grounded in the nature of things. The redefinition of “family” to include units that are contrary to the nature of things is much more an act of radical nominalism (we can call things anything because there’s no intrinsic connection between names and things) and voluntarism (the human will is ultimate) and a denial of the very existence of nature.”
Also, I am happy to see that Wesley Hill’s book on celibate homosexuality is to be released in a few weeks: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. You should read this article by Hill if you have not already. Here are my reflections related to his article.
June 23, 2010
In the 91st minute, USA scores their second goal but the only “official” goal of the match, advancing to the round of 16 and winning their group!