The BBC has an online archive of video interviews conducted with several of the great British novelists of the last century (Iris Murdoch, J. R. R. Tolkien, P. G. Wodehouse, et al.). Here is an interesting bit from the interview with Muriel Spark, discussing her conversion to Catholicism:

Spark: Largely I’m still a Catholic because I can’t believe anything else. I’d often like to, but I can’t.

Host: And you find it a satisfying religion for you?

Spark: No, but I can’t believe anything else. Perhaps the truth isn’t satisfying. It may be that.

Spark was not exactly a saintly role model. It seems that her life parallels Graham Greene in this regard. Both led lives marked especially by “lusts of the flesh,” both experienced profound conversions to the Catholic faith, after which they both wrote their best novels. But the further removed from their conversions, the worse the novels get. Catholicism for both resulted in an introspective deepening and imaginative boost, but the dominance of sin ultimately dampened their genius.

So, what are we to think of Dame Spark’s statement (“Perhaps the truth isn’t satisfying”)? Of course, I heartily agree that the truth condemns our complacency and pet idols, calling us to a radical obedience. Herein we find discomfort. Yet, the truth of the Cross includes the truth of the Resurrection, and this truth is the most satisfying of all truths: life freely given. The Holy Spirit convicts, yes, but he also bears fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. This was said by Saint Paul, who was equally quite aware of the hardships bestowed by the Lord. Once again, we have a dialectic where discomfort and comfort are united in one expression of truth. If you lose the dialectic, you lose the truth. Unfortunately, we live in an age where the comfort side of the dialectic is elevated over-against the discomfort. In this context, Spark’s statement is refreshing.

Throughout his several books, A. W. Tozer is occupied by the cultural assimilation in contemporary evangelicalism, especially as afforded by the rise of the “leisure class” in middle class, post-war America. Enraptured by consumerism and the amusements which occupy our interests, the churches have appropriated an anthropology where the arousal of the affections is the means for action and commitment. Thus, it is believed, the heart governs the will; the latter is contingent upon the former. The delights of the Lord will make for better Christians, a healthy church, and a just society.

The problem here is that the emotions are ungovernable, at least insofar as they are made the chief faculty of the intellect and, thereby, the chief cause of influence for the obedience of faith. The emotions are not capable of bearing this weight. Instead, our acts of volition, in accordance with the obedience of faith, is the fountain from which our emotions are the spring. Obedience is the source of a more secure and stable emotional life. As such, the heightening of our affections can never be the object of faith, that for which we obey Christ. Once the affections are made the object of faith, man himself is made the object of faith — man is in service to himself. (By the way, here we have the foundations for the proliferation of the prosperity gospel in mainstream evangelicalism by the end of the 20th century.) Here is Tozer’s estimation of the dilemma:

To find our way out of the shadows and into the cheerful sunlight, we need only to know that there are two kinds of love: the love of feeling, and the love of willing. The one lies in the emotions, the other in the will. Over the one, we have little control. It comes and goes, rises and falls, flares up and disappears as it chooses, and changes from hot to warm to cool and back to warm again very much as does the weather. Such love was not in the mind of Christ when He told His people to love God and each other. We could as well command a butterfly to light on our shoulder as to attempt to command this whimsical kind of affection to visit our hearts.

The love the Bible enjoins is not the love of feeling; it is the love of willing, the willed tendency of the heart. (For these two happy phrases I am indebted to another, a master of the inner life whose pen was only a short time ago stilled by death.) …

Someone may infer from the above that we are ruling out the joy of the Lord as a valid part of the Christian life. To avoid that erroneous conclusion I offer this further word of explanation.

To love God with all our heart we must first of all will to do so. We should repent our lack of love and determine from this moment on to make God the object of our devotion. We should set our affections on things above and aim our hearts toward Christ and heavenly things. We should obey them, always firmly willing to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourself.

If we do these things we may be sure that we shall experience a wonderful change in our whole inward life. We shall soon find to our great delight that our feelings are becoming less erratic and are beginning to move in the direction of the “willed tendency of the heart.” Our emotions will become disciplined and directed. We shall begin to taste “piercing sweetness” of the love of Christ. Our religious affection will begin to mount evenly on steady wings in stead of flitting about idly without purpose or intelligent direction. The whole life, like a delicate instrument, will be tuned to sing the praises of Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

But first of all we must will, for the will is master of the heart.

[The Best of A. W. Tozer, Book One, pp. 174-176.]

Architectural sins

August 20, 2010

Der Spiegel has highlighted some of Germany’s worst architecture during the post-war rebuilding, when modernist trends were dominant. The examples are truly horrendous, and they would be funny if not for the fact that they actually exist, in real communities with real people. Those poor souls.

It’s hard to decide which is worse: the materials being used (concrete, metal plates, and so on) or the actual designs.

I have an undying love for this artist. Ryan Bingham has two albums that are pretty damn near perfect (Mescalito from 2007 and Roadhouse Sun from 2009), an Oscar-winning song, “The Weary Kind,” from the movie, Crazy Heart, and a third album that is due in a couple weeks. I just came across this video for “Country Roads,” from Roadhouse Sun:

Even though the songs stand on their own, you really must get the whole album to truly appreciate his work. I’ve listened to Mescalito more times than any album I’ve ever owned, including a ridiculous obsession with Weezer’s “blue album” when I was in high school.

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.

I love this section from Lewis Smedes’ autobiography, on his encounter with Cornelius Van Til and Karl Barth:

I was mesmerized for one semester by the boldness of Van Til’s thinking, but by the second semester I began to suspect that he was stretching a defensible theory of knowledge to the borders of absurdity. If true, it would mean that unless any two people had correct beliefs about God and about the world they could not have a genuine conversation about anything. How can two people talk respectfully together about interesting parts of reality — the economy, for instance, or the possibility of life on Mars — if one of them assumes that everything the other person says about anything is doomed to be dead wrong?

Van Til was convinced that if anyone’s assumptions about God are wrong, she cannot be trusted even when she says that she believes the gospel truth about Jesus. He wrote a book called The New Modernism in which he contended that the star theologian of the century, Karl Barth, was a modernist because, in Van Til’s view, he denied that Jesus was God in human form and denied as well that he had risen from the dead. The hitch was that Barth had affirmed these things over and over and, in fact, was largely to be credited with bringing the gospel back into the churches of Europe. But Van Til said that even if Barth shouted from the tower of St. Peter’s that Jesus was the Son of God, he could not believe what he was saying. His philosophical presuppositions would not let him.

Several years later, after I had finished my graduate studies in Amsterdam, I had occasion to put the question to Barth himself: “Sir, if you will permit me an absurd anachronism, let us suppose that a journalist carried a camera into Jesus’ tomb about eight o’clock on Easter Sunday morning and took pictures of every inch of the tomb, what would have showed up on his film?” Barth sighed. This again? He had been asked questions like this by every skeptical evangelical who got within shouting distance of him. But he was patient: “He would have gotten nothing but pictures of an empty tomb. Jesus was not there. He had walked out of the tomb early that morning.”

I told Van Til about this conversation. His answer was, for me, a final exhibition of intellectual futility. “Smedes,” he said, “you have studied philosophy, you should know that Barth cannot believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” Cannot! Not merely does not, but cannot believe what he said he believed. Conversation finished.

[pp. 68-69]


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.