Category : Books

Food for Thought from CS Lewis–On the importance of reading old books

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were “influences.” George Macdonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity. They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think – as one might be tempted who read only con- temporaries – that “Christianity” is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages “mere Christianity” turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne. In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe – Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed “Paganism” of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet – after all – so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life: “An air that kills From yon far country blows.”

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then. Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

–C.S. Lewis, On the Incarnation: the treatise De incarnatione Verbi Dei (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993), pp. 3-7.

Posted in Books, Church History

(LA Review of Books) Christianity and Resistance: An Interview with Alan Jacobs

So, what does “evangelical” mean?

Right now, I have no freaking idea. [Laughs.] I couldn’t begin to tell you.

What is it supposed to mean?

So, the most classic definition is one that was coined by Scottish historian David Bebbington (you can Google the term “Bebbington quadrilateral”), and it consists of these four things: evangelicals are people who believe in a conversion experience; they believe in the authority of scripture; they have a theology centered on the cross, and Jesus’s atoning work on the cross; and, as Bebbington puts it, they engage in a theologically informed activism, they get out there and preach the gospel and try to win people over. Some have suggested revisions to that, but that’s the general thing.

And what we’re looking at now is that many of the people who call themselves “evangelical” in polls are people who actually could not in any meaningful way affirm any of those four things. But that’s not encouraging to me, because what that suggests is that there are all these people who have some kind of tribal association with the word “evangelical.” And that means that evangelical churches have allowed themselves to degenerate into a kind of tribalism, rather than theologically informed, compassionate activism.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture

(Spectator) Harry Mount reviews ‘A Field Guide to the English Clergy: A Compendium to Diverse Eccentrics, Pirates, Prelates and Adventurers; all Anglican, some even practising’

As the wordy title of this book and the name of its author suggest, this is a faux-archaic, fogeyish journey around England’s oddest vicars. The Reverend Fergus Butler-Gallie is, though, the real thing: a young curate in the Church of England. Yes, he’s given to sometimes tiresome jocularity: he describes himself as ‘a Bon Viveur first and foremost, with a soupçon of Roguishness and Prodigality’. But, still, his essential thesis is right: the Church of England has produced some real oddballs in its time, and this is an entertaining gallop through several centuries’ worth of them.

For 400 years after the Reformation, the Church of England was the ideal Petri dish for nurturing eccentricity. Take plenty of money, lots of free time, a good education, power and class confidence, and vicars were bound to overindulge their whims. Well, at least until the second half of the 20th century — when the collapse of religious feeling, the decline of the Church’s wealth and power, and the selling-off of the finest vicarages and rectories brought a sad end to clever, rich, eccentric, educated vicars….

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church of England, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry

(WSJ) Jillian Kay Melchior on bell hooks–A Prophet for the ‘Social Justice’ Movement

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of bell hooks, or recognize the name only vaguely. But if you follow the turmoil on American college campuses, you’re indirectly aware of her influence. Leftist scholars—and nonscholars too, increasingly—put her in the pantheon of thinkers whose names every educated person should recognize: Plato, Descartes, Marx.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, Ms. hooks uses a lowercase pen name “to focus attention on her message rather than herself,” the Encyclopaedia Britannica reports, not altogether plausibly. That message begins with the “intersectionality” theory—the claim that racism, sexism and similar types of oppression compound each other’s effects—and advises social-justice warriors (or SJWs) on how to respond.

SJWs often resemble religious fundamentalists, and faith and spirituality are central to Ms. hooks’s vision. “Truly, there can be no feminist transformation of our culture without a transformation in our religious beliefs,” she writes in “Feminism Is for Everybody” (2000). She describes “fundamentalist patriarchal religion” as a barrier to “the spread of feminist thought and practice.”

She reserves particular vitriol for Christianity, “which condones sexism and male domination” and “informs all the ways we learn about gender roles in this society.” But Ms. hooks’s take on Christianity draws more from experience than scholarship….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Religion & Culture, Women

(CT) Warren Smith–David Foster Wallace Broke My Heart

While a graduate student at the University of Arizona, he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and that brought him face-to-face with religion and religious people. AA’s 12-Step program is a far cry from a systematic and biblical theology, but for someone like Wallace—brilliant, arrogant, skeptical—its principles were humbling and eye-opening, especially the admonition to “surrender to a power higher than ourselves.”

Recovery ultimately took several years and involved multiple relapses, time in a residential rehab facility (brilliantly fictionalized in Infinite Jest), and at least one suicide attempt. But when Wallace came out the other end, he was a different, humbler man. As Max puts it,

To do well in recovery required modesty rather than brilliance. It was not easy for him to accept humbling adages like “Your best thinking got you here.” How smart could he be, the other program members would remind him, if here he was in a room in the basement of a church with a dozen other people talking about how he couldn’t stop drinking?

If these experiences did not lead Wallace to religion, or Christianity in particular, they did lead him to admire and respect Christians, many of them “ordinary Joes” he met in these church basements. In 1999, to one of his writer friends, he wrote, “You’re special—it’s OK—but so’s the guy across the table who’s raising two kids sober and rebuilding a ’73 Mustang.”

That respect showed up in his work, and despite his background and education, he became something of a “blue-collar intellectual.” He often wore jeans, flannel shirts, and unlaced Timberland boots. In the heat of Arizona, he would pull his long hair back with a bandana, and the look became his trademark. Wallace would skewer the pompous and the hypocritical without a trace of pity, but he developed a quiet and profound respect for the humble and sincere Christians who often led these AA meetings and served as his sponsors—people who desperately, unironically talked about a God he wanted to but could not quite embrace….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Economist) Francis Fukuyama and Kwame Anthony Appiah take on identity politics

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. By Francis Fukuyama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 240 pages; $26. To be published in Britain by Profile Books in October; £16.99.

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. By Kwame Anthony Appiah. Liveright; 256 pages; $27.95. Profile Books; £14.99.

One of the most remarkable recent developments in Anglo-American politics is the reification of the white working class. Google Trends, a website that tracks how often particular words or phrases are typed into the search engine, shows a huge spike in interest in that group when Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016. Interest has never quite subsided since. What is more, the white working class has gone from being mostly ignored to being assumed to have a consistent set of views, even a political agenda.

Many of the books published after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Mr Trump’s election tried to explain why this group in particular had turned on the political establishment. For example, “Us vs Them” by Ian Bremmer and “WTF” by Robert Peston found the answer in the travails of former industrial towns and the arrogance and selfishness of elites. Now come two more reflective takes. “Identity” and “The Lies That Bind” suggest that Western countries not only have deep economic and social problems, but philosophical ones too. People are looking at themselves and others in the wrong ways.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

(CT) John Inazu: Why I’m Still Confident About ‘Confident Pluralism’

The premise of confident pluralism is that we can make room for our differences even as we maintain our own beliefs and practices. Doing so requires both legal and personal commitments. When it comes to the law, we must insist that those in power protect our ability to disagree. We must have a shared commitment to allowing for dissent, difference, and divergent beliefs. That means strengthening First Amendment freedoms for everyone.

The personal argument focuses on civic practices rooted in three aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience. Tolerance acknowledges that people should generally be free to pursue their own beliefs and practices. This is not the same as approval; it is much closer to endurance. We can usually respect people even if we don’t respect their ideas. Humilityrecognizes that we will sometimes be unable to prove to others why we believe we are right and they are wrong. Patience asks us to listen, understand, and empathize with those who see the world differently.

The American experiment in pluralism depends upon legal commitments and civic practices. And we have usually found ways to maintain a modest unity against great odds. We have always done so imperfectly, and too often our political stability has been purchased at the cost of suppressing or silencing those with less power. But in acknowledging our country’s shortcomings, we can also remember some of its successes. The disagreements between white Protestant men at the founding of our country may seem trivial today, but those differences meant widespread killing in other parts of the world. Our debased and dehumanizing political rhetoric leaves much to be desired, but unlike many other societies, we usually stop short of actual violence. In the midst of deep disagreements with our neighbors, we still find creative partnerships in unexpected places. These examples of our modest unity are important reminders that we can live together across deep differences. On the other hand, they do not suggest that we have or will overcome our differences. As I write in the book’s conclusion, confident pluralism will not give us the American dream, but it might help avoid the American nightmare.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Apologetics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

Wednesday food for Thought from Max Lucado

Heroes in the Bible came from all walks of life—rulers, servants, teachers, doctors—male, female, single, and married. Yet one common denominator united them. They built their lives on the promises of God. Noah believed in rain before rain was a word. Joshua led two million people into enemy territory. One writer went so far as to call such saints “heirs of the promise” (Hebrews 6:17).

As God prepared the Israelites to face a new land, he made a promise to them, “Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you” (Exodus 34:10). God’s promises are unbreakable. Our hope is unshakable!

–Max Lucado Unshakable Hope

Posted in Books, Eschatology

The Joy of Reading

Posted in * By Kendall, Animals, Books, Harmon Family

Kate Bowler–“I am preparing for death and everyone else is on Instagram”

Posted in Books, Death / Burial / Funerals

Wednesday Food for Thought from Michael Anton

From here:

The sexual revolution, universally assumed to be a boon for randy men, has turned out to be in at least one respect much more conducive to satisfying women’s preferences than men’s. Men may have started it, or at least egged it on, hoping that with the old restraints gone, they would be free to indulge. But they forgot or never understood a fundamental law of nature: throughout the animal kingdom—up to and including Homo sapiens—males merely display; females choose. When a woman’s choice is completely free of all social, legal, familial, and religious boundaries, she prefers to hold out for “the best.” Hence a constrained-supply problem arises.

Four years ago, a University of North Carolina co-ed lamented to the New York Times that the sex imbalance on college campuses (nationally, 43% male, 57% female as of fall 2014) is even worse for girls than it looks. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent.”

(Hat tip:AR)

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Men, Sexuality, Women, Young Adults

More Food for Thought from GK Chesterton–Everything will be denied until even the obvious will need to be defended

From there:

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

–Gilbert K. Chesterton, Heretics (London and New York:John Lane[The Bodley Head], 1905), pp. 304-305, my emphasis

Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Theology

(New Atlantis) Doug Sikkema–Taking a Careful look at the Modern disenchantment myth

That magic, religion, and superstition have all persisted up to the modern day does not quite demonstrate his claim that “we have never been disenchanted” — or, put another way, that “modernity signals a societal fissure” between religion and reason “that never occurred.” In his keenness to show that the idea of disenchantment is undermined by the persistence of both sides of the binary, he fails to examine a more interesting and arguably much more important line of inquiry: how this myth has altered the conditions in which both religion and science are now practiced. When we consider this, we see that despite the continued prevalence of enchanting beliefs and practices, we are indeed disenchanted in a more fundamental and pervasive way than Josephson-Storm recognizes.

Just recall his origin story for a moment and his blind spot becomes apparent. He deems pre-Revolutionary Europe to be merely a “historical moment” the Romantics were reacting against in their writings. In doing so “they were making grand themes out of the specifics of their local history.” But this reading fails to take seriously the broader cultural conditions in which such a political and philosophical climate even became possible. Might it have something to do with a broader notion of disenchantment, or “dis-God-ing” (to translate from Schiller’s “entgötterte Natur”), that transcended this particular place and time? If so, the German Romantics may have had real reason for concern, as may have the thinkers who built on their insights. Perhaps their understanding of history’s pattern as a linear alienation from God and nature was questionable, but the idea of a dis-godded condition becoming solidified in a theory of progress and in revolutionary politics, and of it manifesting in physical form in the new industrial world, was so terrifying to them precisely because they knew these things were greater than their particular historical moment.

The only way for the book’s argument to work, then, is to accept at face value the idea of disenchantment as the simple absence of religion and magic. But we are actually disenchanted in a much more profound way. Yes, religion and magic remain ubiquitous; but they are now performed against a backdrop in which disenchantment is regarded, in ways conscious and unconscious, as true. Disenchantment is the default position in the social imaginary, encoded in our language and in all manner of habits and practices that carry as if we inhabit a mechanistic world. It has become one of the myths we live by, even as we resist it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

John Mark Reynolds–Wrong, Not Just Because We Think So

Graduation time brings out the inspirational quote. One quotation keeps showing up, disasterous advice and a misquotation. Before getting to the ethics problem, as a public service, let me suggest three truths about citing famous people:

First, relying on quotation sites on the ‘Net is dangerous. Check the original text. 

Once while reading Sarah Palin, I discovered she had at least three quotations (including one from Plato) that were wrong. A quick Google showed a quote site that had all the errors.

Second, if the citation does not include a text reference and Google does not show the text it is from, assume it is spurious. 

Everyone gets something wrong, sometime. I relied on a book that said Alfred Wallace was a Lord: wrong. If you cite badly, just be sorry, correct, and hope your critic can let it go!

Third, Shakespeare and Plato are very dangerous to cite as they don’t always agree with their characters. 

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Theatre/Drama/Plays

(CT) Philip Jenkins reviews Professor Brian Stanley’s new book on Christianity in the 20th Century

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of trends in modern Christianity will have opinions about what Stanley’s 15 key themes should be. We might disagree with the exact contents of his list, but few would question the reasonableness of including, for instance, “uneasy marriages between Christianity and nationalism”; the persecution of churches in different societies; ecumenism; the dilemmas of living as a Christian under Islamic rule; human rights, gender, and sexuality; the role of migrant churches; or the relationship between Christianity, ethnic hatred, and genocide.

But if the topics to some extent select themselves, Stanley then startles with his choice of specific examples. Yes, we know that Christians in different eras have exalted the notion of “Holy Nations,” but how many authors would think to examine this approach with a comparative study of Protestant nationalism in South Korea and Marian Catholic nationalism in Poland? Or to compare the churches’ response to genocide in Nazi Germany and Rwanda? One might easily point to the fundamental cultural differences between the nations placed under the microscope, especially when Catholic and Protestant traditions are juxtaposed. But overriding those forms of diversity is one key question. Each of these churches, sects, or movements claims to be Christian, regardless of its location and historical circumstances. So what exactly is the identifiable core of that Christian belief or understanding? How malleable is it?

Another strength of Stanley’s book is the serious attention paid to a wide diversity of traditions and denominations. A generation or so ago, a book giving adequate and fair coverage to both Catholics and (mainline) Protestants was laudable. Stanley certainly treats those two fully, but over and above that he offers a chapter on the Orthodox tradition, as viewed in the cases of Greece, Turkey, and even East Africa. Given his interest in Global South religion, he is very informative on Pentecostal worlds, as well as the African independent traditions represented by the Aladura and other healing churches.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Globalization

(Washington Post) Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, dies at 101

Bernard Lewis, a preeminent scholar of Middle Eastern history whose work profoundly shaped Western views of the region — including fears of a “clash of civilizations” — but also brought scorn from critics who considered his views elitist and favoring Western intervention, died May 19 at an assisted-living facility in Voorhees, N.J. He was 101.

The death was confirmed by his romantic partner and co-author, Buntzie Churchill, who did not cite a specific cause.

Dr. Lewis’s prolific scholarship — including more than 30 books, hundreds of articles and competence in at least a dozen languages — traced fault lines that define the modern Middle East, such as sectarian divisions, the rise of radical Islamists and entrenched dictatorships, some backed by the West.

Along the way, Dr. Lewis often gained a privileged vantage point for events in the region during a life that spanned the era of T.E. Lawrence, oil discoveries in Arabia and showdowns against the Islamic State.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, History, Middle East, Religion & Culture

(CC) Jason Byassee reviews the new book ‘Preaching Radical and Orthodox’ (SCM Press)

Books of sermons can be hit or miss, but there is not a clunker in this volume. They can also be theologically diffuse, but there is remarkable synchronicity here: not uniformity, but coherence. Thomas Aquinas appears as a theologian whose work was for the training of social radicals, doing ministry with the poor. A theology of Mary appears regularly, as does an enormously high doctrine of the Eucharist, celebrated and contemplated and made deeply invitational. One might be forgiven for thinking the sermons Catholic. Fully one third of them—and many of the most memorable ones—are by women.

Alison Milbank is the preacher who appears most often, and Arabella Milbank—a priest in training who is the daughter of Alison and John—appears both as preacher and as an addressee of a wedding homily. Yet, unlike some settings, there is no bashing of tradition here, no apologies for previous misogyny, no special pleading that the church can be nearly as “woke” as the world. Rather, the sermons have a regular and pointed critique of the world, confidently offering the church as a viable alternative.

Most pleasingly to my mind, the sermons engage in an unapologetic reclamation of the legends of the saints…

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Preaching / Homiletics

(Patheos) Philip Jenkins–Making Monks, Forming Souls

I have been reading an important new book called Monasteries and the Care of Souls in Late Antique Christianity: Cognition and Discipline (Cambridge University Press, 2017). This is by my former colleague Paul Dilley, an excellent scholar whose work I have discussed in the past. The book is important because of its Egyptian setting, using many texts that are only available to those scholars with a knowledge of Coptic, besides the familiar Greek. Egypt is so critical to the making of early Christianity, right up through the sixth and seventh centuries and beyond, but our standard Western emphasis often means that this is underplayed. Also, given the central importance of monasticism through much of Christian history, Dilley’s book addresses a central if under-explored question: just how did people become monks? Not just how did they sign on to the profession, but how did they discover and absorb the lifestyle, its particular ways, assumptions and ideologies? How did they learn to live its world?

This would be a fine book if it just offered a straightforward historical analysis, but it is much more daring that that, and approaches its subject from the field of cognitive studies. Dilley describes such key cognitive disciplines as “meditation on scripture, the fear of God, and prayer.” He also discusses  “various rituals distinctive to communal monasticism, including entrance procedures, the commemoration of founders, and collective repentance.” That emphasis on ritual behavior fits so well with what we know about religious practices across the faith spectrum.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History

(America) David Michael–Alan Jacobs: a Christian intellectual for the internet age

In a post in late 2015, he wrote about curbing the distractions of the internet. He had deleted his Tumblr and Instagram accounts and had returned to older technologies: paper, CDs and even a “dumb phone”—though he had returned to his iPhone when I visited him.

Lately, he has started taking notes on multicolored index cards. He spends less time writing on a computer and more time writing in a notebook, using a practice called bullet journaling. He jots ideas down as they come to him, and reads over the notes when he has time. “It’s always like putting stuff in the compost pile and stirring it around and then putting more stuff in the compost pile and stirring it around. And then I take it out and move it to the place where something needs to grow.”

If an idea is still gnawing at him, he will work the idea into a more developed sketch. When he gets on a roll, he grabs his computer, sometimes writing four or five thousand words at a time. “That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to be good words,” he told me. “But it’s this kind of desperate let me get it all out while I still can.” When I visited him, he was in the midst of six different essays and a new book.

He calls his new book a theological anthropology for the Anthropocene Age, an account of what it means to be human in an era that seems radically empowering but also leaves the individual feeling helpless before technocratic powers. Theologians have not risen to the task, but Jacobs thinks that novelists like Thomas Pynchon can offer clarity.

“I have lots of ideas,” he told me shortly before I left. “I always have more ideas than I can possibly write about.” So he prays for discernment about what ideas to pursue and what ideas to let die. “And increasingly, over the last three or four years, I pray more and more that God would teach me when it’s time to shut up. That’s the thing that I’m least good at. Just shutting up.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NBC) Boston Marathon Bombing Survivor Pens Children’s Book Featuring Her Life Changing Dog

Posted in Animals, Books, Children, Terrorism, Urban/City Life and Issues, Violence

(CT) Theologian Jack Deere Went Through Hell to Come to Faith

Mere paragraphs from the conclusion of his story, Deere is not saying, “This was something I dealt with,” but “This is something I deal with.”

This rawness is rare in the church today. We are often told by leaders that they sin, but Deere’s memoir is refreshingly full of his sin. It is not gratuitous in any form. We never get the sense that he wants to gain our pity or empathy to manipulate us into thinking he’s better or worse than he is. He is simply factual (to our knowledge) and unapologetic to his reader, while increasingly more repentant toward those against whom he has sinned—God foremost among them.

In a world where, all too often, leaders present themselves as one-dimensional characters (primarily speakers, teachers, pastors, musicians, or writers), Deere shows us we are irreducibly complex beings. Our bodies matter. Our souls matter. Our minds matter. Our emotions matter. Our histories matter. These together form the whole of who we are, and any true ministry we do out of the whole is going to be wholly complex. Otherwise, it will be anemic, one-dimensional, and devoid of power. Deere recognizes this now. But it took hell to get him there. I haven’t even mentioned the half of it in this review.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Children, Christology, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Marriage & Family, Soteriology, Suicide, Theology, Violence

(Guardian) Terry Eagleton reviews ‘7 Types of Atheism’ by John Gray

Gray belongs to that group of contemporary thinkers, of whom George Steiner is the doyen, who disdain the secular but can’t quite drag themselves to the church or synagogue. They turn, instead, to a kind of transcendence without content, of which there is no finer example than what one might call Hollywood spirituality. Those celebrities who dabble in Kabbalah or Scientology do so as a refuge from a material world crammed with too many chauffeurs, masseurs, bank accounts and swimming pools. The spiritual for them is the opposite of the material, a mistake that Gray also makes in his less luxury-laden way. This is not the view of Judaeo-Christianity. When Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, he speaks as a devout Jew, for whom the spiritual is in the first place a matter of how one behaves towards others. Those who seek some otherworldly comfort in religion are apparently deaf to Jesus’s warning to his followers that if they were true to his word they would meet with the same fate as himself.

Another aspect of Judaism is its iconoclasm. You are forbidden to make images of God, because the only image of God is human flesh and blood. But since the Jewish God is the God of the future, you are equally prohibited from making graven images of what is still to come. Besides, if you can represent the future here and now, then it can’t be the future. Gray, with his aversion to utopian blueprints, would surely agree. What he might be slower to concede is that the only image of the future is the failure of the present. The task of the Old Testament prophet is to remind his people that unless they change their ways here and now, protecting the poor from the violence of the rich and providing for the widows and the orphans, there won’t be any future worth having. Marx, a secular Jew who urged his wife to read the Hebrew scriptures, was true to this ban on visions of the future. In fact, his work is notorious for how little it has to say about the nature of communism. For a writer who began his career in fierce contention with utopian thought, this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that the viscerally anti-Marxist Gray doesn’t see fit to mention it.

Seven Types of Atheism is an impressively erudite work, ranging from the Gnostics to Joseph Conrad, St Augustine to Bertrand Russell. In the end, it settles for a brand of atheism that finds enough mystery in the material world itself without needing to supplement it with a higher one. Yet this, too, is just as much a throwback to the Victorian age as Dawkins’s evangelical campaign against religious evangelism. Authors such as George Eliot, reeling from the death of God, took solace in the unfathomable intricacies of the universe. Gray condemns secular humanism as the continuation of religion by other means, but his own faith in some vague, inexplicable enigma beyond the material is open to exactly the same charge.

Read it all.

Posted in Atheism, Books

(AFP) China enforces ban on online Bible sales

Bibles have been pulled from Chinese online retailers in “recent days”, merchants told AFP on Friday, as Communist authorities ramp up control over religious worship.

The clamp down on “illegally published books” also comes as the Vatican and Beijing negotiate a historic agreement on the appointment of bishops in China

“Bibles and books without publication numbers have all been removed in recent days,” a merchant on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao told AFP, without giving details on how authorities have enforced the ban.

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

(AM) Alan Purser reviews ‘The gospel and the Anglican Tradition’ by Martin Davie

Martin Davie has written a useful and timely contribution to the current debate about the value and theological coherence of the Anglican tradition. Useful, because it gathers together in one place material from a wide range of Anglican texts (including The Homilies, the 39 Articles and the BCP alongside contemporary material from GAFCON and ACNA). Timely, because so much of this rich heritage is unknown to a generation for whom the words of the General Confession or the Prayer of Humble Access do not readily roll off the tongue, and for whom “Read, Mark, Learn” is a phrase supposedly coined by a well known London church for its bible study programme.

Whilst it would have benefited from more careful editing (the frequent repetitions, the number of extraneous words and the signs of it having been written piecemeal are unfortunate) this volume’s comprehensiveness is impressive, as is the author’s evident enthusiasm for his subject. Davie’s agility in citing examples from a such wide range of material exposes the remarkable theological consistency of the Cranmerian reformation, and the depth of its biblical, gospel roots.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books, Theology

(NYT The Upshot) In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America

Before the first hearings on the morning docket, the line starts to clog the lobby of the John Marshall Courthouse. No cellphones are allowed inside, but many of the people who’ve been summoned don’t learn that until they arrive. “Put it in your car,” the sheriff’s deputies suggest at the metal detector. That advice is no help to renters who have come by bus. To make it inside, some tuck their phones in the bushes nearby.

This courthouse handles every eviction in Richmond, a city with one of the highest eviction rates in the country, according to new data covering dozens of states and compiled by a team led by the Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond.

Two years ago, Mr. Desmond turned eviction into a national topic of conversation with “Evicted,” a book that chronicled how poor families who lost their homes in Milwaukee sank ever deeper into poverty. It became a favorite among civic groups and on college campuses, some here in Richmond. Bill Gates and former President Obama named it among the best books they had read in 2017, and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

But for all the attention the problem began to draw, even Mr. Desmond could not say how widespread it was. Surveys of renters have tried to gauge displacement, but there is no government data tracking all eviction cases in America. Now that Mr. Desmond has been mining court records across the country to build a database of millions of evictions, it’s clear even in his incomplete national picture that they are more rampant in many places than what he saw in Milwaukee.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, City Government, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Housing/Real Estate Market, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The Banking System/Sector

Martin Davie–Reimagining Reimagined – A Review Of Justin Welby’s Reimagining Britain

Contrary to what is said in the blurb on the back cover of the book, the Archbishop is not offering ‘a radical vision for 21st century Britain.’ If all that he proposes came to pass, British society would not actually change that much. What he is offering is a modest proposal for the development of existing British society and government policy along lines that have also been put forward by a large number of other writers on this topic.

What is helpful about the Archbishop’s proposal is that he identifies a number of key issues which anyone concerned with the development of British society needs to bear in mind.

Practices must reflect values and virtues.
In order to flourish Britain needs to be a society marked by the practice of love and by the values of community, courage and stability.
There need to be Intermediate institutions (including households and religious groups) that exist between the individual and the state.
Families, education, health, housing, and economics and finance are the basic building blocks of British society and problems in these five areas need to be addressed.
Britain needs to express its values in relation to immigration and integration, foreign policy and climate change.
It is important that churches and other religious groups should be given the freedom to challenge a liberal hegemony and be encouraged to bless society through their activities.
The specific policy proposals made by the Archbishop, such as giving greater support to those caring for family members, ensuring that those responsible for new housing encourage the development of community life and rebalancing the British economy so that it is less dependent on the financial sector, are also sensible and would have widespread support.

The Archbishop’s policy proposals are lacking in detail.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Justin Welby, Anthropology, Archbishop of Canterbury, Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

Wednesday Food for thought from Max Lucado–‘We are not happy here [on earth] because we are not at home here’

Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land. To intermarry with the Babylonians and forget Jerusalem.

We are not happy here because we are not at home here. We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here. We are “like foreigners and strangers in this world” (1 Peter 2:11).

Take a fish and place him on the beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes?

Of course not. Then how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach simply because he was not made for the beach.

And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. Oh, you will have your moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead.

–Max Lucado Heaven: God’s Highest Hope(Word:Waco,1994), chapter 1

Posted in Books, Eschatology

(Christian Today) Rowan Williams: How theology helps us understand ‘Being Human’

[We] are in a cultural and work environment where it seems that individualist assumptions prevail, assumptions about control, assumptions about unavoidable conflict, assumptions about there being always a private area into which we can retreat and shut the doors…If we live in an uncooperative environment, if we’ve developed uncooperative selves, the field is not lost. Something can be reclaimed. But it can be reclaimed only by a careful, systematic challenge to those assumptions about what the human is that so imprison us – a challenge to our (in the broader sense) educational philosophies. That’s a challenge that needs clarity about what a person is and isn’t; clarity about the difference between the person and the mere individual; clarity about the capacity of human agents to do what my sources describe as transcending the merely natural, transcending the simple list of things that happen to be true about me.

Such clarity is not easily available either for a simply materialist view of human life – the human individual as a machine… – or for a purely spiritualist view of human life – human identity is just the sovereign iron will that lives somewhere in here and imposes itself on the world out there. Somewhere in between is an understanding of human identity, human personality, as fascinatingly and inescapably a hybrid reality: material, embedded in the material world, subject to the passage of time, and yet mysteriously able to respond to its environment so as to make a different environment; able to go beyond the agenda that is set, to reshape what is around; above all, committed to receiving and giving, to being dependent as well as independent, because that’s what relation is. I am neither a machine nor a self-contained soul. I’m a person because I am spoken to, I’m attended to, and I’m spoken and attended and loved into actual existence. Which takes us back to the question of human dignity and the sacred, and to that pervasive, mysterious, nagging sense that there is always something about the other person that’s to do with what I can’t see and that can’t be mastered.

Read it all.

Posted in --Rowan Williams, Anthropology, Books, Theology

(CEN) Archbishop says British society needs to be rebuilt like in 1945

He said that society‘cannot thrive’ while education ‘is marked by cuts and inequalities’.

“It threatens our togetherness. Without a properly funded education system with values at its core, our long-term outlook is poor. This applies not only to the highest performing child but for all,” he added.

He said that Brexit ‘has divided the country’ and ‘we now need a new narrative’.

“There is a danger that there is a schism in our society into which the most vulnerable are falling. Austerity is crushing the weak, the sick and many others.

“Today in Britain we are suffering from a lack of such common values – values that have deep roots in our nation’s Christian history.”

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Kate Bowler’s new book ‘Is there a Cure for Tragedy?’

[Kate] Bowler tells how while she was still in hospital a neighbour came the door and told her husband ‘Everything happens for a reason’. ‘I’d love to hear it,’ the husband replied. ‘Pardon?’ said the woman. ‘The reason my wife is dying,’ was the response. The neighbour said nothing but handed over a casserole.

Bowler lists three life lessons that people try to teach her. The first is that death is just the gateway to heaven. The second is that suffering is ‘an education in mind, body and spirit’. And the third is that attitude determines destiny; just have faith and you will survive. Even atheists find a lesson in suffering. It can show us that we live in an uncaring world and should give up any search for meaning.

Bowler finds no explanation for her suffering but this does not destroy her faith in God. She tells of a ‘free-floating feeling’ that stayed with her for months and conveyed God’s presence to her.

“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.”

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in Books, Health & Medicine, Theodicy, Theology