WORDS OF COMFORT:
Michael Szczuka writes:
On rereading Mere Christianity today, I came upon a passage which speaks powerfully to the misguided yearnings of the liberals who have hijacked the Episcopal Church. It is the conclusion of his opening book on, of all things, the Law of Human Nature.
"In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for the truth, you may find comfort in the end; If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth - only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair."
Something else I came across while using Google: The Cumberland River Lamp Post, a site dedicated to C. S. Lewis. It hasn't been updated since January, but it contains some helpful articles.
It includes a useful "Lewis in the Dock: A Brief Review of the Secular Print Media's Judgment of the C. S. Lewis Centenary" and a very useful page titled Some Recent Lewis Internet Sightings (2001).
That page includes a liink to an article by the Lewis scholar David Downing titled "Neither Patriot nor Pacifist, but 'Patient': Lewis on War and Peace", which looks like an interesting companion to Darrell Cole's The Problem of War: C. S. Lewis on Pacifism, War & the Christian Warrior, which we published in April.
WAY, WAY, WAY OUT THERE:
In doing a Google search to find something on C. S. Lewis' views of alchemy, I came across the following, which may amuse you: "C. S. Lewis the Devil's wisest fool". The page I found (page six) begins:
Having already delved into the vile doctrines of sun worship that C.S. Lewis has hidden in his books for children, The Chronicles of Narnia, it would seem that it could not get much worse, but it does.
This won't amuse all of you, but those of you who have a taste for human fruitcakery will enjoy it. It is also a wonderful example of how a hostile reader can misread a person and turn every fact to his disadvantage.
P.S. ON THE REFORMED:
Speaking of our desire to get more Reformed writers in Touchstone, we have just accepted an article by Peter Leithart on Stanley Hauerwas. It is quite interesting and should appear next spring. (Magazines like ours have to work fairly far ahead. We're now putting together the November issue and have the issues through March planned.)
A letter from an interested, and I suspect interesting, reader:
I enjoy reading your magazine, both the current month and back issues. Not because I agree with everything you have in it, but because your articles make me think about what I really do believe and why. I find I keep arguing with your writers in my mind long after I have read them, and sometimes months later on looking back at an article I find I may just have talked myself around to your view. Other times I at least know why I believe something different.
I would like to set up a discussion group based on your magazine. Writing letters to the editor is not the same thing as a good wide ranging bull session. Would you mind printing this letter to ask that any other subscribers in Humboldt County, California who would like to meet over coffee (or wine and cheese) to freely discuss ideas from recent Touchstone issues to please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org? I will see about setting up the first couple of meetings and we can go on from there.
- Maggie Nystrom
An entry from Forward Day by Day, the daily devotional published by Forward Movement, the Episcopal Church's semi-official publisher. This is the entry for September 8th, on the reading Mark 15:40-47.
She does not get a lot of space in the New Testament, yet Mary Magdalene stands out as a follower of Jesus. She, and a few other women, are mentioned along with the disciples as part of his intimate circle.
To an amazing degree, given the culture of his. time, Jesus was inclusive of women. He liked them, and he admired, encouraged and helped them. No doubt they, were drawn to, his charisma. I regard Mary Magdalene as the most special woman in his life, aside from his mother. It. raises for me the question of Jesus as a sexual being. I like to think that he had a relationship with her which perhaps went beyond friendship.
Is it so shocking to imagine that a fully human, Christ, who ate and drank and slept and laughed and wept, who experienced a range of bodily and emotional qualities similar to ours, would also have been interested in sex? The church, of which Jesus was never a member, has denigrated sex and elevated chastity.
Do you notice that films are X-rated more often for sex than they are for violence? Maybe Jesus believed that our sexuality is a gift from God, which he also embodied.
In the author's entry for September 30th - the writers of these devotionals are traditionally unidentified - he meditates on 2 Chronicles 29: 1-3, 30:1(2-9)10-27 and quotes the verse:. "The good Lord pardon every one who sets his heart to seek God... even though not according to the sanctuary 's rules of cleanness." Of this he says:
What a blessing for me to have this quote available for my final meditation. It is reinforced in the Matthew passage for today, "Judge not, that you be not judged."
By what right do we judge the inner intent of another? And by what standard do we claim that our particular faith is the only valid one?
I evaluate my appreciation of any church primarily by one item in the bulletin: "All seekers are welcome at this altar." For me, "All baptized persons" is exclusive. I know that on occasion Buddhists and Muslims have received communion beside me, and likely others that I don't happen to know about.
In the spirit of Jesus' inclusiveness, are we not to welcome into our midst anyone who is searching for spiritual meaning, by whatever name it may be called? Let Christian rules yield to Christian love, in which no one is set apart from us.
One of my teachers is immersed in Eastern philosophy and the oneness of all creation. He has raised my understanding of the connectedness of all persons. If he is not welcome at the altar in my church, then I don't want to be there either.
THE WCF EXPLAINED:
My thanks to several of you who answered my dim question in "A word from and about the Reformedof what the "F" in "WCF" stands for. It stands for "Westminster Confession of Faith," which I should have figured out. I will plead that one always hears it called the "Westminster Confession" without the Faith (so to speak).
One reader kindly sent a link to the Westminster Confession of Faith and said
The WCF is an outstanding doctrinal statement, with vry handy Scripture proofs. Non-Calvinists (even anti-Calvinists) can find it almost always helpful in summarizing Biblical doctrine. At the risk of mixing apples and oranges, one would do well to have the WCF and the Catechism of the Catholic Church side by side on his bookshelf.
Several readers, all Reformed, also sent their ideas about the Reformed and ecumenical enterprises like ours, all interesting, but this will take me some time to synthesize and present.
THE POWER OF THE WORD:
An addendum to my comments in yesterday's blog "Mohler on homosexualism". I wrote:
Speaking from my long observation of the Episcopal Church, I think that they do not want to reject it outright, despite what it says about their sexual lives, because a) some do believe in it as a revelation, of a sort, and b) others who don't believe in it don't want to frighten the members who do, as frightening the members who do might cost them their place in an institution they find very useful.
As I thought about this, I realized I should revise "a." To say that such people - homosexual men and women who believe in Scripture as a revelation but want to twist what it says about homosexual acts - believe in it as "a revelation, of a sort" is probably inaccurate.
And it is inaccurate because it discounts the power of Scripture to attract, entrance, and compel its readers. It is so powerful that we should not assume - I should not have assumed - that people who consciously do not live by its commands do not really believe in it. They may love the Scriptures, may be in a sense addicted to them, but be unwilling in one area of their lives, an area to which they are also addicted, to accept the Bible's plain meaning.
We all know from our own lives the extraordinary ability of our hearts to convince our minds of absurdities, particularly that certain contradictions are not really contradictory. I think this is often what is happening in the lives of openly homosexual people who say, truthfully, that they love the Scriptures and who have an orthodox view of their meaning and authority.
But they still need our prayers and, if we're called to it, our warnings, because few of us can live with such a contradiction. Eventually we have to move one way or the other, toward making our lives more Christ-like in the ways Scripture offers us, or living less and less by Scripture and (as a cause and as a result) holding it to have less and less authority. And given the Fall, the odds for most of us favor the latter.
Relevant to this is the moving testimony "I was in Hell".
A WORD FROM AND ABOUT THE REFORMED:
Two good quotes attached to the end of a message from a Reformed reader. From John Calvin:
Let us learn, even from the simple title 'mother,' how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know [the church]. For there is no other way to enter life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off our mortal flesh, we become like the angels. . . . Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any foregiveness of sins or any salvation . . . he who refuses to be a son of the Church desires in vain to have God as his Father.
And from something with the reference "WCF 25.2" (if that's the Westminster Confession, what does the "F" stand for?):
The visible church . . . consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children, and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
The reader had written to suggest three writers from the Reformed tradition. One, Peter Leithart, writes for us already, and in fact has an article in the September issue (now at the printers), but I will be writing the other two in the hope of getting them into our pages.
To be honest, despite our pursuing Reformed writers we've had a problem getting them to write for us, because they tend to be immersed in the Reformed world and its publications and just aren't interested in writing for an ecumenical audience. (Peter Leithart being an exception, of course.) We've tried flattery, groveling, begging, pleading, and whining, but they aren't moved. This is true for Lutheran writers as well.
But we keep trying. For some reason, Evangelicals outside those two traditions - Baptists and Methodists, for example - seem much more eager to write for an ecumenical audience.
For a realistic take on the situation of Episcopal conservatives, see the English writer Geoffrey Kirk's "American Blues", an analysis I think exactly right. Partly because (If I may say so) he makes several of the points I made in the "Letter from America" I used to write for the English magazine New Directions, of which Geoffrey is one of the editors. It is published by the resistance group Forward in Faith.
My only objection to his analysis is his use of "traditionalist" for the group he is describing. That word usually means those who have stayed with the old Prayer Book, in affection if not practice, and support, if weakly, the traditional understanding of sex and ordination. But his analysis applies, and applies even more deeply, to the "conservatives" now gathered in the American Anglican Council. Many of the traditionalists fought liberalism tooth if not quite nail, while the "conservatives" hung out with it, having intimate dinners with it and even spending the occasional night with it, when passion overwhelmed sense, while patronizing the traditionalists as rigid, reactionary, issue-oriented, and the like.
And Geoffrey is, if I may say so, throwing rocks from within a house with a least of glass in it. The resistance in the Church of England, of which he is a leader, has argued that they are to some extent separated from the bishops that ordain women and so have placed themselves under the "flying bishops" the Church of England provided for dissenters.
Those bishops, however, were all ordained by the Archbishop from whom they are to some extent separated, and are acting in his place or person. In other words, they don't actually solve the problem at all. I have Catholic friends in England who speak of Forward in Faith the way Geoffrey speaks of American traditionalists.
I think they would say that the leaders of Forward in Faith recognize this as an inconsistency, but are working toward a free or third province separate from the Church of England. (Some of them hope that this new province would pursue corporation reunion with the Catholic Church and depart the Church of England forever.)
That makes sense to me, within an Anglican ecclesiology, but it was also the tactic the traditionalists were, and I suppose are, pursuing. Someone using the same tactic ought to be a little more understanding.
TERROR AND TRADITION:
Our executive editor Jim Kushiner (pronounced "Kush-ner," by the way) will be giving a talk in a west Chicago suburb on September 9th, which I commend to your attention. Here is the announcement written by our development officer Ken Tanner:
Terror and Tradition
September 11 and the Way of the Cross
On September 11, 2001, Touchstone's executive editor, James Kushiner, was on a pilgrimage to the ancient monastic site of Iona, founded in the sixth century by the great Irish saint, Columba. When the news came of the attacks against his homeland, he discovered a new power in tradition through the ancient prayers of the Church prayed in a place of martyrs and saints.
Please join us on Tuesday, September 9, at Christ Church in Glen Ellyn (625 Hillside Avenue), Illinois for an evening of reflection and remembrance as Mr. Kushiner, editor of Creed and Culture: A Touchstone Reader (ISI Books), gives an account on his experience near the second anniversary of the terrorist acts of 9/11.
The program will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m. There will be a time of questions and interaction with Mr Kushiner following his talk. To conclude the evening, an informal reception with refreshments will be held in the parish hall.
I have attached a flyer (in .pdf format) with directions to Christ Church. Might I ask our friends and readers to post this notice in your places of work and in your churches?
If you cannot open the flyer, details are available on our website at:
Please feel free to reply to this e-mail with any questions or you may call us at 773-481-1090.
I hope you are able to be with us.
MOHLER ON HOMOSEXUALISM:
Dr. Albert Mohler offers a good summary of the strategy of the Christian homosexualist movement in The Inescapable Issue of Biblical Authority.
The advocates of homosexuality have only two plays in their playbook when it comes to the Bible. They must either deny that the Bible has any authority in this debate, or they must present some kind of ridiculous interpretation of the biblical text that comes down to claiming that the text doesn't mean what it means. Most of the gay theorists use both plays in their arguments - and sometimes both at once.
In a fascinating (and tragic) interview broadcast on the BBC World Service, the Bishop of Hereford, John Oliver, acknowledged that the Bible is very clear about its "explicit condemnation" of homosexual behavior. But, referring to the Leviticus text, Bishop John explained that the Jewish people "were under tremendous pressure" to make themselves distinct from their pagan neighbors. No bother to us, for Bishop John does not believe that "we need to take this seriously as a text which guides us today."
What about the Apostle Paul in Romans? Here the bishop argues that Paul is only concerned about "frivolous homosexual acts by persons who are basically heterosexual."
How clever! The Apostle just wants heterosexuals to be heterosexual.
As he says, this is about all the homosexualist apologists can do with the Bible, given that they still want to claim some place for it in their religion. Speaking from my long observation of the Episcopal Church, I think that they do not want to reject it outright, despite what it says about their sexual lives, because a) some do believe in it as a revelation, of a sort, and b) others who don't believe in it don't want to frighten the members who do, as frightening the members who do might cost them their place in an institution they find very useful.
Dr. Mohler concludes his short analysis by noting that:
Christians take careful note: A church or denomination that compromises the Word of God and denies biblical authority will eventually lose all theological sanity. A church that elects a Bishop John Oliver will eventually elect a Bishop Gene Robinson.
This has always seemed to me, and to a lot of other people, obvious. If you let someone blow up the foundation of the building, he's eventually going to blow up what parts of the building are left. I said this in various meetings and articles, as did others.
But whenever any of us would point this out to the Episcopal "conservatives" now so worried about homosexuality, and note that they had to take a definitive stand now, they either called us extremists and alarmist or found some way of putting off the conflict into the future. The future has arrived. They may now howl about the election of an openly homosexual man to be a bishop, but they helped put him there by standing by smiling while the skeptics and innovators were setting off plastic explosives in the basement, and by taking them to lunch afterward.
Dr. Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, was one of the six speakers at our last conference. His paper and my response appear in the current (July/August) issue with the other papers from the conference. They are not up on the webpage but you can order the issue by clicking on "Store" above.
My thanks to Dunker Journal for the link. Click here for two quotes from and a link to an interesting article by David Brook in The Atlantic and click here for useful links to articles on "seeker" oriented Christianity and the blogger's astute comments thereon.
Something perhaps of interest from my former colleague Dr. Stephen Noll, now vice-provost of Uganda Christian University, about the death of Idi Amin:
The reaction here in Uganda has been odd - or so it seems to us. On the one hand, the "government" newspaper *Sunday Vision* ran what I thought was an incredibly fine front page. With a photo of a rather menacing Amin in a bathing suit, the headline read: "Amin is Dead" followed by a large-type quotation from Isaiah 14:10: "Now you are as weak as we are! You are one of us! You used to be honoured with the music of harps, but now you are in the world of the dead. You lie on a bed of maggots and are covered with a blanket of worms."
At the same time, the newspaper reported a unanimous public opinion poll that Amin's body should be returned and buried in Uganda. Thank goodness, Muslim ritual requires quick burial, and so it seems he will remain permanently in Saudi sand.
The American ministry supporting the university is called Uganda Partners.
From a sermon by Fr. Craig Young, a good quote from the 17th century Anglican poet Thomas Traherne:
"You [will] never enjoy the world aright. . .till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and kings in sceptres, you [will] never enjoy the world. Till your spirit fills the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all ages as with your walk and table; till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made; till you love men so as to desire their happiness with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own; till you delight in God for being good to all: [until then] you will never enjoy the world."
MR. DREHER AND BISHOP SPONG:
We are pleased that Rod Dreher's article from the "Godless Party" issue has been picked up by BeliefNet, where it is titled "Are the Democrats Anti-Religion?".
Amusingly, Rod's article is bisected by an ad for John Spong's "fight for an inclusive church" and advocacy of "a new Christianity for a new world." I was just reading an article on how religious Americans still are (by an author who disapproved), and it occurred to me that people like Spong depend upon this.
When in his writings Spong has finished explaining how little of traditional Christian can actually be believed, he offers in its stead the only thing he can offer: some fairly abstract platitudes expressed in generally religious terms. "God wants you to live life to the max" just about covers it. Without a God who tells us things we wouldn't know otherwise, this is all he can say. He can't say much else, because his God is too generic.
It is not the sort of faith the truly secular person will find very attractive, because it is not substantially different from the messages he gets from many other people. He hears it in one form from the psychobabblers, in another from the yuppie materialists, in another from the political activists. He may listen to Spong if he prefers the religious mode to the others, but I can't imagine there are too many people like this. Not enough, anyway, to sell all those books.
I am rather sure that so many people buy Spong's books because the great religiousness of America creates a market for religion of Spong's sort, a big gray zone between the white of belief and the black of secularism. Tens of millions of people grew up to some extent religious, even if they only went at Easter and Christmas, and many remain marked forever by the feeling that they ought to be religious. They feel the need or the desire for religion in their lives, but they also feel that traditional religion is much too demanding and intrusive.
Along comes a Spong, who with the authority of a bishop, one of the guys who runs the show, gives them a religion without the demands and intrusions. He offers them a relation with the divine (the Guy who really runs the show) and all the consolations thereof, not least the idea that the world and their lives have a purpose and meaning, and that at the end of the day, and at the end of their lives, Someone is on their side.
He gives them a reason to go to church every Sunday, to say prayers and receive sacraments and proclaim creeds, to order their lives in a new and better way, to join a local community with all the benefits pertaining thereunto, all without the burden of subscribing to anything demeaning or giving up their independence. He tells them that the prayers and sacraments and creeds are all symbolic, and may be enjoyed for what they are.
If I am right about this, and I'm pretty sure I am, Spong's "new Christianity" depends for its share of the market on the fact that the old Christianity still controls so much of the market that it creates a demand for knock offs. Years ago buyers started wanting shirts with the makers' logos on them, and right away lots of companies started putting out cheap shirts with their own logos, designed to look like the expensive brands'. The shirts were not nearly as well made, but they were a lot cheaper. Spong's religion is the cheap one, but no one would buy it were there not a more expensive one setting the standards and creating the demand.
Actually, this may be too generous a metaphor. Given how little of real use Spong has to say, and how silly is much of his attack on Christianity, a better metaphor may be the fake Rolodex watches sold by con artists out of the backs of trucks. To the ignorant buyer, the fake looks just like the expensive watches he's seen in the ads, and he is happy to get it so cheaply, even though he knows - as it's being sold out of the back of a truck by a man constantly glancing up and down the street - it's stolen. It's only when the watch breaks down that he finds out it's a fake.
I find Spong's sort of religion boring and pointless, but I can see how attractive it must be to people who truly want to know God, but not on His terms. Many of them may be more genuinely religious than I am. I can think of some who are, and who are also more genuinely charitable than I am.
But they are I hope and pray that their religion and their charity mark a trajectory that will lead them out of the gutted Christianity presented in Spong's books and into the Faith.