The Best Music Videos of 2014

December 31, 2014

MacKenzie Porter

MacKenzie Porter

Here is my definitive list of the best music videos from 2014.

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“Shut Up and Dance,” Walk the Moon

Walk the Moon embodies almost every hipster stereotype, right down to the 80’s styling and personas. Except, their songs are too common and easily likable for any true hipster to enjoy. Pitchfork ignores them, which should be a badge of honor. Their 2012 RCA debut album is one irresistible treat after another. The lead single, “Anna Sun,” is a great introduction to the band and to their joie de vivre. Their second RCA album was just released. It does not match-up to the debut album, but the lead single, “Shut Up and Dance,” captures everything I love about the band. If this song and video does not make you smile, then you are possibly beyond redemption.

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“Dirt,” Florida Georgia Line

I love to hate FGL. With few exceptions, they are terrible. They are among the worst of the bro-country offenders. But when “Dirt” was released, everyone had to admit that it was a rather good song, no matter how painful it was to admit. Even the proprietor of SavingCountryMusic.com gave the song a “two guns up” review, and that is saying something. How can you not love a song about dirt? It reached #1 on both the Hot Country and Country Airplay charts, and for months I could scarcely get in my car without hearing it on one of our stations in Charlotte. Nigel Dick did a great job with the video.

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“Rollercoaster,” Bleachers

Bleachers debuted this year with Strange Desire. My comments for Walk the Moon can equally apply to Bleachers. I am happy to say that they received the disapproval of webzine, Consequence of Sound: “all ‘80s schmaltz and all catharsis.” Oh, geeze, catharsis. How awful! As if hipsters could not be more insufferable, they use words like “catharsis” like it’s a bad thing. Please, my friends, enjoy the enjoyment of joy. This is a very fine song and a very fun video.

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“If You Ask Me To,” MacKenzie Porter

If we must have pop-country, then MacKenzie Porter is what we need. She is from Canada, but I wish she were from Dixie — for the simple reason that she would get more exposure, which she wholly deserves. Come down South, MacKenzie! Her debut album was released this year, but her first single, “I Wish I’d Known,” was released two years ago. It is included in the album, along with “If You Ask Me To.” This is a simple, delightful song. It doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous.

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“Try Harder Than That,” Meghan Linsey

Also charming and beautiful, Meghan Linsey has co-written a fun diatribe against the bro-country movement, and the video is equally fun. But unlike Maddie & Tae’s huge hit, “Girl in a Country Song,” Meghan has not been able to capitalize as successfully on the bro-country backlash. That’s unfortunate. She is trying to break into the Nashville scene, which is nearly impossible nowadays for a female artist. She included the hick-hop rapper, Bubba Sparxxx, in this song. I normally despise hick-hop, but it works fairly well here.

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“Texas,” Tami Neilson

Do we have enough songs about Texas? No. Silly question. Tami Neilson is another songstress who resides in the wrong country. She is from Middle Earth…more commonly known as New Zealand. This is a tragedy. She is better than 98% of Nashville, and her album, Dynamite!, is nearly impossible to find over here. Thankfully, you can stream it on Spotify. In addition to writing fabulous songs, she also has some great videos on YouTube. They are well worth your time. Her video for “Texas” is my favorite, and it includes a bonus performance of “Cry Over You.” She captures everything that is special about 1950’s country music.

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“Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks Bentley

Dierks is one of the best mainstream country artists to emerge in the last decade. He has proven his chops over and over. His seventh album, Riser, is his best. It produced two #1 songs for Country Airplay: this song and “I Hold On.” While “Drunk on a Plane” is certainly a fun and not-to-be-taken-too-seriously song, it is also a legitimately clever song. It includes an actual narrative and humor. Rolling Stone rightly included it among their “10 Signs” that bro-country is declining. The video itself was honored with a prestigious CMA award for best music video.

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So, there are seven videos above: five country and two alt-rock-pop. Not diverse enough?

In my defense, I also listen to Bach and Telemann.

Looking Back!

December 29, 2014

© Jorge Alvariño and Ali Larrey 2008

At the end of last year, I did a retrospective listing of the blog’s content for 2013. Now it is time for 2014. This is helpful, I hope, for newer visitors to the blog or as a refresher for longtime visitors. As I expected, the top “category” for this past year is Karl Barth, and that is probably true for every year since I started the blog. That’s not counting the music category, of course!

Without further ado, here is a look at 2014 here at After Existentialism, Light:

Karl Barth

Barth’s universalism

“Barth was brilliant and irresponsible as usual”

True infinity is also finite

D. L. Moody the Barthian

Christ has witnesses outside the church

Barth on “serious” theologians

Barth chastises the early Barth

In God, subordination is not deprivation

Barth’s failure? (also see Hunsinger responds to Rose)

“Most theologians have been cowards”

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Balthasar and Barth revisited

The “last essential difference” between Catholicism and Protestantism

On reading Balthasar

Fr. Barron introduces Balthasar

John Calvin

Faith is not a virtue

The friendly Calvin

Calvin on sanctification in Christ

Bad Calvin

Hans Martensen

Theology begins with certainty

Everything must not be doubted

God’s aseity

Miracles and the telos of nature

God’s Eternal Self-Consciousness

On German Theology

The Significance of German Theology

Vermittlungstheologie

“Worldview” Gone Wild

“Worldview” is not Reformed

(Sarcasm alert) Al Mohler is more humble than evolutionists

A win for sense experience

Spooked by the Enlightenment

The current fissure in pop-Calvinism

Chicago’s Muddy Waters

What is a “theologically conservative Christian”?

Review: God’s Not Dead

Conversion Without Christ: The Message of God’s Not Dead

A Brief Response to RHE

Roger Scruton

Scruton on Anti-Government Conservatism

Scruton on Foucault

The intellectual and “power”

Humor

The Joy of Presbyterian Sex

Skinny jeans!

Lutheran Satire

Baptists, Bulletins, and Bedtime

Some humor from Karl Rahner

Theology Misc.

Emil Brunner revisited

Why choose Christ?

Gene Robinson

When the victorious Christian life ain’t that victorious

Jesus’ deep joy

Love precedes Truth

For the troubled and tried (Spurgeon)

The West, Religion, and Demographics

Against “illuminating the human condition” (Hauerwas)

Taking Foucault to Sunday School

Teaching Feuerbach in Sunday School

What did the PCUSA do?

The evangelical underground

Glad tidings for the melancholy

Pluralism and Exclusivity in Newbigin’s Theology

Thomistic Personalism

Faith Without Apologetics

Defending Brevard Childs

God’s Humility

Mary Jo Sharp and wise apologetics

Faithful Heart

The problem with the “incarnational analogy”

Emerson on Man as the standard of truth

God-and-Mammon (non-)Christianity

The Paradoxical Jesus

Is “evangelization” different from “evangelism”?

Costly Love – an analogy of the Atonement

Pope Francis on gender complementarity

Catholic sexual ethics in a Protestant church

Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

Against “thematic theologies”

Priest, Prophet, King

We Still Don’t Get It: Douglas Moo on Evangelicals and Bible Translation

Persons in the Doctrine of the Trinity (and whither Barth?)

Denomination Decline and Gain: 2000-2011

“Christ is everywhere really means Jesus of Nazareth nowhere”

Other Misc.

From renaissance Venice to today

Back from California!

Me at Golden Gate Bridge

Reviews

Paul Dafydd Jones reviews The Domain of the Word 

Samuel Loncar reviews Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit

John Webster reviews Healy on Hauerwas

Music

Hank and Anita

The cowboy motif in country music

Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3

Leaning on the Everlasting Arm,” David Crowder Band

The Gaslight Anthem

“The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” Cal Smith

Mandolin Orange

“Time Shows Fools,” Justin Townes Earle

“Beautiful War,” Kings of Leon

“The Girls from Texas,” Lyle Lovett

Songs of the Civil War — Short Film

The Best of 90’s Country

“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord),” Johnny Cash

Best Album of 2014

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Image: Jorge Alvariño & Ali Larr

Farrow-Ascension

I am reading Douglas Farrow’s much-acclaimed study on the doctrine of the Ascension. It is slim pickings when it comes to books on the Ascension. They are few and far between. Since I haven’t finished, I cannot properly give my overall impression, but so far it is a stimulating work. In order to give you a taste, here is an excerpt from early in the book:

The notion of Christ’s universal presence is an exceedingly common one, as we shall see. …What is sacrificed for the sake of this Christus praesens, as Calvin noticed long ago, is his specificity as a particular man. Christ is everywhere really means Jesus of Nazareth nowhere. In the ascension he becomes ἄτοπος [“out of place”] in the most literal sense: he is unnatural, absurd, for he has no place of his own. (Vague talk among modern theologians about ‘a change of state, not of place’ hardly alleviates that difficulty, however effective it may be in turning aside impolite inquiries as to Jesus’ actual whereabouts.) For that reason, and others we will encounter later, we begin to hear of the ‘post-existent’ Christ or about the period after the incarnation. In other words, just when the gospel has taught us to think of salvation in the most concrete terms, as an act of God in the flesh and for the flesh, the story of Jesus is turned against itself. His humanity is betrayed and marginalized after all.

[Ascension and Ecclesia, Eerdmans 1999, pp. 12-13.]

If that doesn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. A little later, as you could guess, he critiques theologians like Macquarrie and Bultmann, though (so far) not in a great amount of detail. He also admirably engages with some of the historical-critical conclusions, e.g., those who dismiss the Ascension because Luke is the only Evangelist to mention it, not counting the longer ending to Mark. In the quote above, he is criticizing those theologians who conflate the Ascension with the Resurrection and, thereby, with Christ’s overall glorification and exaltation over all things. It’s an ambitious project, to state the obvious.

I would also like to quote from Oliver O’Donovan, as Farrow does on p. 39 in a footnote:

The incarnation is not simply a mythic portrayal of the fellowship between men and God, nor the ascension of the triumph of the cross. Insofar as these transitions have one foot in our space and time, they are seen there as events — events which, however, have another end to them beyond the historical sequence of which, at this end, they form a part.

[On the Thirty-Nine Articles, Paternoster 1986, p. 36f.]

Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

A couple years ago, a member of our church asked about the decline (or growth) of denominations. I knew the general talking points, but I was curious about the hard numbers in denominational decline/gain for the past decade. I selected three Presbyterian denominations: the mainline PCUSA and the evangelical PCA and EPC. To compare with the PCUSA, I selected another mainline group, the Episcopalians (TEC). And to give more comparisons for evangelicals, I selected the Southern Baptists (SBC) and the Assemblies of God (AG).

I did this in 2012. I never blogged the results, apparently because I forgot, but here they are:

denominational statistics image

Click on the image to enlarge. The ARDA database was one of my sources, but I generally used the denominational websites where possible. The empty spaces indicate the years that I was unable to find any numbers. You can see the percentage decreases/gains on the bottom.

So, as everyone would expect, the mainline PCUSA and TEC had severe losses for the decade, losses which began in the mid-1960’s. I also glanced at the United Methodists (UMC) and the Lutherans (ELCA), and they appear to be in the same ballpark. The story for evangelicals is interesting. But before anyone gets too triumphalist, let me say that I would not be surprised if we start seeing declines across the board in the near future, with the exception of certain charismatic groups. The “nones” will prove to be difficult, as everyone is fretting.

Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has posted steady gains, nearly 15% from 2000 to 2011. Interestingly, there was decline from 2007 to 2008, but they rebounded. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) has seen enormous growth at 77% for the 2000-2011 time frame. Today, their growth since 2000 would be 123%! This growth is, of course, thanks in large part to the PCUSA, and we could say the same about the newest Presbyterian body, ECO, which currently has 171 congregations after only two years of existence. ECO has received Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in the Bay Area. EPC has received First Presbyterian Church, Orlando. Those are three examples of large, influential evangelical churches that were once within the mainline. This means a loss of evangelical leadership within the mainline, such as John Ortberg at Menlo Park, David Swanson at First Pres Orlando, and the rather young Bryan Dunagan at Highland Park.

The growth of Pentecostal denominations is well known. The Assemblies of God (AG) is one of the oldest, which means that it is less than a hundred years old. The numbers in the chart above are for the United States only, at 18% growth and over 3 million members. The AG has over 60 million members worldwide! Yes, that’s right. 60 million, and that is a small slice of the Pentecostal pie worldwide. By comparison, the mainline Reformed, Anglican, and Lutheran bodies have 70-80 million each, and that includes inflated numbers from, for example, the nominal membership of the Church of England (27 million baptized).

New Orleans Baptist Seminary

New Orleans Baptist Seminary

The Southern Baptists are an interesting case study. They are evangelical to be sure, and even more so now than 30 or 40 years ago. But they are also a very “mainline” denomination, indeed the most mainline denomination of the South. Many of the demographic problems that are plaguing the official Protestant mainline are also being experienced by the SBC, namely a very large constituency in small-to-mid size towns, like the cotton mill towns in North Carolina between major cities like Charlotte and Greensboro and Raleigh. The mills are closed, and people are leaving. (This is my family’s own story. My dad is a mechanic, and we moved to Charlotte when I was six years old to find more employment opportunities.) Nonetheless, the SBC experienced steady growth while the mainline was declining — that is, until the last few years, causing quite a lot of panic for a denomination that has long prided itself on evangelism. If you look at the 2000-2011 numbers, there is growth, but it is more like a plateau. And beginning in 2010 to today, it is a decline, though not nearly as steep as the mainline. The SBC has challenges ahead. One bright sign, however, is the six SBC seminaries, which can each boast a substantial size student body (see ATS and scroll down) in a country where seminaries are struggling mightily.

If I had more time, I would have liked to include some of the smaller evangelical denominations that have grown at healthy rates, such as the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and the Christian & Missionary Alliance (CMA). I was once a member of the EFCA, and they are doing a lot of things right. The EFCA seminary is Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside of Chicago, which can boast an impressive faculty. The EFCA is about the same size as the PCA, and the CMA is a bit larger at just under half a million in the US. Some of the larger evangelical denominations are also worth checking, such as the Church of the Nazarene at nearly 2.3 million members and growing (though recently at a slower pace than previous decades). And also, it would be fascinating to look at the predominately black denominations, such as the AME and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). Most African-American denominations do not fit the “mainline” or “evangelical” labels very neatly. The COGIC, a Pentecostal denomination, has experienced enormous growth in the US with over 8 million members today. Another important case study would be the many ethnic congregations of recent immigrants, from the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Myanmar, and elsewhere. They often have strong and enthusiastic congregations in every major city in America.

Dominican Republic worship

An evangelical church in La Hoya, Dominican Republic

As a closing word, it should be remembered that numbers aren’t everything, but they are something. A declining church or denomination could be a sign of faithfulness to a gospel that the culture does not want to hear, and there are many progressives who see themselves and their churches in this way. Or, a declining church or denomination could be a sign of apathy, laziness, and self-centeredness. In the mainline, as I suspect, it could be a sign of theological irresponsibility. As the great German biblical scholar, Klaus Berger, has recently written, “Two hundred years of intense and intelligent biblical research has desolated our churches” (source).

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Images: The first two images are by Michelle Le of The Almanac, a Bay Area newspaper. The final image from the Dominican Republic can be found at Global Lens.

Best Album of 2014

December 15, 2014

sturgill

By consensus of critics and fans alike, in my neck of the woods, the best album of 2014 is Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. I assume that other genres still exist, but we’ll ignore them for now. In fact, the acclaim for Sturgill has far exceeded the typical confines of the country music audience. I cannot recall the last time an independent country artist received this much attention, all without the support of Nashville’s Music Row. The reason is simple. The songs are too undeniably good, regardless of your musical proclivities. If you don’t like this, then you should probably stop listening to music altogether:

That’s how it is done, folks. I love Letterman at the end. In interviews, Sturgill has said that it took 35 years to write the album — his whole life. The lyrics frequently deal with sin and finding the light, questioning God and religion along the way. This may put some country fans off, not to mention the drug use and overall hippie ethos of the album. See “Turtles All the Way Down.” But, it is refreshingly authentic, to use a now cliché expression.

He is often compared to Waylon Jennings and for obvious reasons. Both musically and vocally, this could have been a Waylon album, circa 1973-1978. His vocal styling bears an uncanny resemblance to Waylon’s. But the most significant comparison is in the excellence of the production, due to Dave Cobb. Waylon Jennings was meticulous in the production of his records. Everything harmonized perfectly but without polish, making records that were modern but with all of the integrity of the past. Sturgill and Cobb have achieved the same feat here.

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Image: Sturgill Simpson, by Melissa Madison Fuller (source)

scruton-modern-culture

Roger Scruton’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture could serve as an excellent entryway into Scruton’s body of work. It is frequently demanding on the reader, in regards to the insane amount of material (artistic, philosophical, political) that Scruton references. And in regards to this, he too often assumes a basic familiarity from the reader. But even with these hurdles, this is a superb primer on modern culture, answering the broad question, “Why do we behave and believe, in the way we do, today?” By the way, the British title, image above, is Modern Culture and published by Continuum.

I initially considered providing some excerpts from his discussion of fantasy versus imagination, which covers three chapters in a bewildering and exhilarating discussion (ch. 6, “Fantasy, Imagination and the Salesman”; ch. 7, “Modernism”; ch. 8, “Avant-garde and Kitsch”). The material on T. S. Eliot is alone worth the purchase of the book. But there is too much in these chapters for a blog post. So, I have elected instead to provide excerpts from chapter 11, “Idle Hands.”

In this chapter, Scruton aims to trace the origins of the “intellectual” and their preoccupation with “power.” Some of this presupposes material from the prior chapters, but I think you will find it interesting as it stands. We shall go from Russian Orthodoxy to Foucault.

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…The Romantic poet, the ‘man of feeling’, and the hermit had all been extolled and ridiculed, with Jane Austen and Thomas Love Peacock effectively putting the lid on their pretensions. Thereafter, thinking and feeling re-assumed their old functions in social life: they were useful, provided you did not notice them. The very idea that someone should draw attention to his intellect and emotions, and regard them as a qualification for overthrowing the established civil order, was anathema to the ordinary English person.

But it was at this very moment that the Russian concept of the ‘intelligentsia’ was first emerging: the concept of a class of people, distinguished by their habit of reflection, and entitled thereby to a greater say in human affairs than had been granted hitherto. …

The attitude led in Russia to a calamity the effects of which will be always with us. And it is worth raising the question why such a view of the intellectual life should have emerged in Russia, and why it should have had an impact there quite out of proportion to its impact in the West. Part of the answer is to be found in the nature of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the ‘exit’ from society which it has provided to men who are that way inclined. Those who turn their back on day-to-day life could acquire an enhanced social status as priest or monk, with an authority passed down to them from God himself. Every society needs those people — usually men — who wish to exchange the burden of reproduction for the grace of spiritual leadership; and one function of the priesthood is to impose upon them the discipline necessary to their task, and to ensure that, having made this choice, they contribute to social stability, rather than undermining it. The Russian Orthodox Church abounds in escape routes for men, and with honours and privileges which will reward their loyalty. Take away faith, however, and those privileges are no longer consoling. It is then that the dreamer becomes dangerous. Unable to enter society, and without the vision of another world that would prompt him to accept the imperfections of this one, he nurses an unstaunchable wound of resentment. His ‘right divine to govern wrong’ goes unrecognised, by a world that gives more credit to material than intellectual power. At the same time, he instinctively identifies with the poor, the oppressed, the misfits — those at the bottom of society, who are the living proof of its injustice. He turns against religion with the rage of a disappointed lover, and refuses to recognise the virtue of any earthly compromise. There arises the peculiar frame of mind of the exalted nihilist — a posture brilliantly described by Turgenev and Conrad, and exemplified in virtually all the characters who instigated the Bolshevik coup d’etat.

Nihilism is not peculiar to the Russian Orthodox tradition, nor did it occur for the first time in nineteenth-century Russia. The Jacobins were pioneers of nihilism, and in the person of Saint-Just is concentrated all the senseless venom of the modern revolutionary. Nevertheless, the Orthodox tradition paved the way for the intelligentsia, by offering ‘exit’ signs on the periphery of ordinary society, and inviting the thoughtful, the sad and the disaffected to pass through them to a higher social status. Once faith had vanished, this higher status could be achieved only by threatening the foundations of society, and seizing real temporal power from those who had supposedly usurped it.

The gurus of the sixties are of great intellectual and spiritual interest. But none more than Michel Foucault, who re-created the agenda of the intellectual, and up-dated the Marxist critique of the ‘bourgeois’ order so as to make it serviceable to the children of the bourgeoisie as they manned their toy barricades. Foucault’s philosophy is conceived as an assault on ‘power’, and a proof that power is monopolised by the bourgeoisie. All social ‘discourse’, for Foucault, is the voice of power. The discourse of the opponent of power, of the one who has glimpsed the secret ways of freedom, is therefore silenced or confined: it is the unspoken and unspeakable language of those incarcerated in the prison and the clinic. Bourgeois domination is inscribed in the tissue of society, like a genetic code; and this fact justifies every variety of rebellion, while defining a singular role for the intellectual, as the anatomist of power and the priest of liberation.

Kant’s description of Enlightenment, as the end of man’s minority, is true; not because man grew up, but because the distinction between the adolescent and the adult state began, with Enlightenment, to fade. For two hundred years, in the midst of unprecedented social and economic change, people tried to hold on to the idea of marriage, to the rites of passage that impress upon youth the knowledge of its imperfection, and to the sexual and social discipline that would guarantee moral and political order in the face of deepening scepticism and romantic transgression, or ought to mean, by ‘bourgeois’ society. Thanks to the bourgeoisie, the show went on. Marriage, the family and high culture preserved the ethical life, in the midst of a political emancipation which — by promising the impossible — threatened the normal forms of social order.

…The freedom extolled by Foucault is an unreal freedom, a fantasy which is at war with serious moral choice. Hence his need to desacralise bourgeois culture, and to dismiss as an illusion the real but tempered freedom which bourgeois society has achieved. Bourgeois freedom is the outcome of historical compromise. In place of this compromise Foucault invokes a ‘liberation’ which will be absolute, since the Other plays no part in offering and securing it.

Foucault said to one of his sycophants: ‘I believe that anything can be deduced from the general phenomenon of the domination of the bourgeois class.’ [Power/Knowledge, p. 100] It would be truer to say that he believed that the general thesis of the domination of the bourgeois class could be deduced from anything. For having decided, on the authority of the Communist Manifesto, that the bourgeois class has been dominant since the summer of 1789, Foucault deduced that all power subsequently embodied in the social order has been exercised by that class in its interests. Hence there is nothing sacred or inviolable in the existing order, nothing that justifies our veneration or stands beyond the reach of the ubiquitous salesman.

This ‘unmasking’ of power through critical analysis went hand in hand with a particular conception of power. Foucault’s ‘capillary’ form of power moves in mysterious ways, and almost emancipates itself, in Foucault’s more lyrical pages, from the pursuit of any goal. But the Nietzschean elegy to power did not appeal to Foucualt’s principal disciples, who saw the bourgeois polis as locked in the grip of a purely instrumental power: the domination of one thing over another, the power to achieve one’s goals by the use of another’s energy. Such power is linked to strength, strategy, cunning and calculation. Its principal instance is the power of the master to compel his slave — and there is working in the intellectual background that wonderful philosophical parable of Hegel’s, which shows instrumental power as necessary (though in time superseded) moment in every human relationship. [The ‘master and slave’ argument occurs in The Phenomenology of Spirit, IV.A.3. The direct influence on Foucault, however, is Sartre, specifically the Sartre of Saint Genetcomedien et martyr, Paris 1952]

The soixante-huitards believed that all power is of this kind. But that is not so. There are powers which cannot be used to further our goals, but which on the contrary provide our goals and limit them: such are the powers contained in a genuine culture — the redemptive powers of love and judgement. To be subject to these powers is not to be enslaved, but on the contrary to realise a part of human freedom. It is to rise above the realm of means, into the kingdom of ends — into the ideal world which is made actual by our aspiration. …If the only end is power, then ends becomes means: the Kantian ‘end-in-itself’ is nothing but a more subtle means to domination. Hence the attack on bourgeois society cannot stop short of an attack on aesthetic value, and on the high culture which, by giving aesthetic form to our anxieties, also reconciles us to them. [The principal debunkers of the aesthetic, as a part of ‘bourgeois ideology’ are two: Pierre Bourdieu, in Distinction, and Terry Eagleton, in The Ideology of the Aesthetic.]

[pp. 123-32]

Alright, I will have to stop there. The bracketed information is the footnotes. The missing paragraphs, indicated by the ellipses, are important as well, but I tried to keep this as trim as possible. As you can see, Scruton is attempting to undermine the basic assumptions that inform the academy and provide the intelligentsia with its moral pretext. Even if you disagree, it is an important contribution.

Khaled Anatolios

Khaled Anatolios

If you have not read it yet, you must read Peter Leithart’s review of Khaled Anatolios’ defense of “person” language, and what that entails, in the doctrine of the Trinity:

“Are the Divine Persons Persons?”

I have touched upon this issue in the past. In particular, I am fascinated by where Barth would stand in the current discussion. It is not easy to say. As I have blogged before — Barth and the “fellowship in the Trinity — he can be appropriated by both sides, those for and against social or personalist models of the Trinity. I also discussed these matters here: “In God, subordination is not deprivation,” which is one of my favorite posts.

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Image: Khaled Anatolios (source: Boston College)

niv_50th

2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible. More precisely, 2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the translation committee. The NT would not be published until 1973, the OT in 1978, and with major updates in 1984 and 2011.

The NIV is a controversial translation among some folks. The KJV-only crowd, which has vastly diminished over the years (praise the Lord!), cannot fathom an imperfect late textual tradition. On the other end of the spectrum, mainline Protestants have never trusted a translation that was founded upon dissatisfaction over the RSV (“expiation” instead of “propitiation”; “young woman” instead of “virgin”). More seriously, the NIV has been criticized for intentional mistranslations for the sake of harmonization and other evangelical biases (well beyond Isaiah 7:14). Paul Davidson’s very long list is probably the most exhaustive to date. Davidson’s list is valuable, even if I don’t agree with every complaint (and some of the more important faults were corrected in the 2011 update). It is hard to defend the NIV’s use of the past perfect tense in Genesis 2, to give one of the more famous examples. And sometimes the NIV will put the better translation in a footnote (e.g., Gen 47:31).

Within the last three years, I completed both the Greek/NT and Hebrew/OT cycles at our seminary. Both were fairly intense, in good Presbyterian fashion. We used the NRSV as our base translation. Even the most gifted seminarian could scarcely claim to have attained serious competence in his or her translation skills. I certainly did not. But in the process of doing my many translations and exegesis, I was routinely surprised by the NIV. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and even preferred it to the NRSV in many cases. Both the NIV-2011 and NRSV are excellent translations, and I generally use both, side by side. On the whole, the NRSV is more defensible in its translation choices, but the NIV is precisely what the NIV claims for itself: an accessible translation with a frequently mellifluous quality. For someone who works closely in the local church — teaching and (more recently) preaching — this is no small factor. And where the NIV’s interpretive bias is on display, for the sake of clarity, I tend to agree (e.g., ἁμαρτίαν in 1 John 3:6 as “keeps on sinning” and “continues to sin”). When compared to other “accessible” translations, like the New Living Translation (NLT), the NIV is downright old-fashioned with its insistence on “technical” language like “righteousness,” instead of the NLT’s “made right,” in Romans 3 and elsewhere. Likewise, the CEV has “acceptable” instead of “justified” in Romans 3:28. In my opinion, these alternative renderings from the NLT and CEV do not fully capture the meaning of δικαιοσύνη.

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The purpose of this is to introduce Douglas Moo’s paper on the NIV, recently delivered at the Evangelical Theological Society’s meeting in San Diego. Professor Moo has been the chair of the NIV’s translation committee for the past few years and a member since 1996. He has taught at Wheaton since 2000 and previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for over two decades. In addition to his widely touted commentary on Romans, I found his commentaries on Colossians/Philemon and James to be especially helpful for my research. Here is Moo’s paper:

“We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr”

In the paper, Moo defends three linguistic principles that have too often been neglected:

First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field. [pp. 3-4]

For those of us who have long been exhausted by those who exclusively defend so-called “formal equivalence” translations, you will appreciate this paper from Professor Moo. A lazy appeal to “literal” or “word-for-word” meaning is what Moo opposes. To quote Luther, as Moo does:

…what is the point of needlessly adhering so scrupulously and stubbornly to words which one cannot understand anyway? Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it — once he understands the Hebrew author — that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself, ‘Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?’ [LW 35:213 –14]

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Priest, Prophet, King

December 8, 2014

For the past several weeks, I taught through the book of Hebrews at church. In the first lesson, I introduced the three offices of Christ (often associated with John Calvin) and referred to them throughout the course. Priest. Prophet. King. For Hebrews, as most of you know, the primary office is priest, but king is prominent as well.

For one of the lessons, I used the following video from Fr. Robert Barron, and the class really enjoyed it. It is part of a video curriculum created by Fr. Barron (see priestprophetking.com) on the offices of Christ. The production quality is excellent.

As far as I can tell, he has his whole presentation memorized — no manuscript and no notes!

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John Leith (1919-2002) was Professor of Theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary for three decades. His Introduction to the Reformed Tradition is a competent survey of a tradition that is catholic, evangelical, and orthodox. He loves Calvin the most, followed closely by Barth.

It’s not the most thrilling read, but there are some enjoyable moments. In the following excerpt, he explains the indispensability of tradition and even its potential for revolution, while also taking some necessary jabs at “thematic theologies,” as he calls them:

Human beings are distinguished from animals by a cultural memory, by a capacity for tradition. Animals have no traditions and no cultures. By tradition people are saved from the tyranny of the moment, and by it they gain some transcendence over time. A traditionless person is tossed about by every wind that blows at a particular moment and is bereft of perspective by which to judge the future. Tradition properly enables one to live out of the resources of the past with an openness to the future. In fact, appeal to tradition has been historically one way of opening up the future to change, even to revolution.

[Leith then cautions against traditions that “have turned in on themselves, and have become prematurely fixed.”]

The discarding of traditions, however, is no adequate answer to the problem of dead and aborted traditions or of traditions that are turned in upon themselves. This is abundantly clear in much contemporary church life. Since 1955, theology and churchmanship have been plagued by lust for novelty and narcissistic delight in being original. The result has been faddism. In a single decade it has been possible for one person to have passed through the civil rights movement, the theology of the secular, the theology of hope, black theology, political theology, the women’s liberation movement, and the theology of play. In addition, there has been the Jesus movement. Some have gone from one movement to movement with no place to call home. All of these movements have their positive contributions to make to the life of the church and have their rightful claim to the attention of all. Yet these movements and thematic theologies became nonproductive of constructive achievement when they monopolized the attention and energies of their adherents and thus lost perspective and the capacity for critical self-criticism. Two basic criticisms that can be made of most of the theological and social enthusiasms of the 1960’s are lack of gratitude for what is given by the past and lack of capacity for critical self-judgment.

The future is not automatically an open door to inevitable progress. The wisdom of the past has not been outdated because it is the integrity that has been wrested out of actual human experience.

[John Leith, Introduction to the Reformed Tradition, WJK Press, 1981, pp. 29-30]

So, to be fair, he is not “against” thematic theologies full stop, and he recognizes their contributions; but this struck me as spot on: they “became nonproductive of constructive achievement when they monopolized the attention and energies of their adherents.”