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Thomas C. Oden (October 21, 1931 – December 8, 2016): Paleo-Orthodox Theologian
Monday, December 12, 2016, 9:18 AM

510RUfbnVDL. UX250  216x300 Thomas C. Oden (October 21, 1931   December 8, 2016): Paleo Orthodox TheologianThomas C. Oden, one of the most prolific and influential theologians of this generation, was ushered into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ on December 8, 2016. Not only was Oden one of the most prolific and influential Christian thinkers of our time, but his theological journey was also certainly one of the most interesting.

I had the privilege of hearing him give lectures in the early 1980s at Drew University, where for many years he held the Henry Anson Buttz Chair in Theology and Ethics, as he was making his turn from years invested in the liberal social gospel toward a classical Christian orthodoxy shaped and informed by the best of the Christian tradition. Particularly he was influenced by the shaping of that tradition as it developed over the first five centuries of the church. I met him shortly thereafter when he visited his first meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. He later became a friend and encourager for me, especially during the decade of the 1990s and beyond. For his friendship and guidance in my life, I will always be grateful.

He once described his theological pilgrimage to me as a series of twists and turns that carried him through liberalism, the social gospel, psychotherapy, and neo-orthodoxy, before eventually bringing him back home to classical Christianity, or what he preferred to call “paleo-orthodoxy.” Oden’s earlier years as leftward-leaning theologian can be traced through his publications, engagement, and interaction with Rudolph Bultmann (1964), Karl Barth (1969), and Soren Kierkegaard (1978). Each of these publications seemed to move him closer to historical orthodoxy, even as he explored the relationship of theology to psychotherapy in various works along the way (1967.1969, 1972,1974), always with an eye on pastoral ministry and the relationship of theology to the church.

In 1979, he sent a wake-up call to others, inviting them to join in his return to convictional and classical orthodoxy with the volume, Agenda for Theology. This publication served as the forerunner for his carefully-conceived, comprehensively-designed, and thoughtfully-written, three-volume systematic theology (1987, 1989, 1992), which drew deeply on the writings of the church fathers. The heartbeat and message of these three volumes were summarized in one of my favorite works, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy (2003). Oden, the Wesleyan theologian, joined with his Calvinist friend J. I. Packer to co-author an important resource on the confessional consensus of believers through the ages, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, which was called, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus.

Oden’s massive theological project recognized that modernity did not satisfy and that the curiosity for the new, the novel, and the creative did not in itself serve the church well. He captured the fullness of this story within the framework of his fascinating pilgrimage in the 2014 autobiographical work, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir.

I was privileged to put together a volume of essays in 1995 under the title, The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement. Thomas Oden contributed two brilliant essays for that book: “The Death of Modernity” and “So What Happens after Modernity: A Postmodern Agenda of Evangelical Theology,” which I think summarized his theological agenda for the final 35 years of his life. That agenda was given ample resources not only through Oden’s writings but also through the numerous editorial projects in which he was involved such as the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, among others. These works, we pray, will continue to shape the next generation of Christian thinkers, pastors, and students for many years to come.

The Christian community has lost a giant with the passing of this cheerful, godly, evangelical, ecumenical, and paleo-orthodox theologian. A friend and source of encouragement to many, we join with numerous others to offer thanks to God for the life, ministry, influential writings, and convictional commitments of Thomas C. Oden.

—David S. Dockery
President, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Some Christmas Reading from Touchstone
Monday, December 5, 2016, 3:03 PM

Screen Shot 2016 12 05 at 3.02.21 PM 300x253 Some Christmas Reading from Touchstone

Calculating Christmas
The Story Behind December 25
by William J. Tighe

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals. . .

God Rest Ye Merry
On Celebrating the Darker Meaning of Christmas by Wilfred M. McClay

. . . This year, somehow it’s been “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” that has stuck in my brain, and particularly these words, in the first verse: “To save us all from Satan’s power/ When we were gone astray.” We move through these sibilant words so quickly and rhythmically. I know I always have. And yet how plainly those few words sketch in a somber background, a whole universe of presuppositions without which the song has a very different, and diminished, meaning. . . .

Love Came Down
Anthony Esolen on Christian Hymns

One of the few columns of a Christian culture that still stands in the secular city is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Everyone knows, or supposes, that Scrooge’s problem was greed, and that Bob Cratchit’s problem was poverty. Everyone knows, or supposes, that the whole aim of the three Ghosts of Christmas was to loosen up Scrooge’s claw-hold on his purse, so that he might give a little to Bob Cratchit and his struggling family. That’s why the strangely unpleasant film Scrooge ends with Albert Finney, a miser turned prodigal, shoveling out coins everywhere, looking like that old confidence man Santa Claus, with a jollity approaching the manic. But Dickens’ novel is not centrally about increasing your charitable donations. It is about the coming to life of a dead soul. There is an Easter in his Christmas. “I am quite a baby,” says Scrooge the reborn, on that Christmas morning. . . .

Yes, Aquinas, There Is a Santa Claus
Nathan Schlueter on a Disputation in the Scholastic Tradition

Fifth Article: Whether the Practice of the Santa Claus Tradition is Permissible according to the Christian Faith? We proceed thus to the Fifth Article . . .

A Wondrous Mystery
Thursday, December 1, 2016, 10:12 AM

From the latest installment of From Heavenly Harmony by Ken Myers.

. . . “A wondrous mystery is declared today, an innovation is made upon nature; God is made man; that which he was, he remains, and that which he was not, he takes on, suffering neither commixture nor division.”

A snappy lyric it’s not. But in the hands of Jacob Handl (1550–1591), it is an occasion to demonstrate how music can provide an experiential knowledge of realities too deep for words. In his setting of “Mirabile mysterium,” Handl uses unpredictable harmonic progressions to capture the sense that something disorienting—or better, re-orienting—is happening in the Incarnation, and thus, in the world. At the end of the work, the Latin phrase “non commixtionem passus” (“suffering no commixture”) is repeated over and over, underscoring this important Christological definition. Handl’s setting is one of many remarkable Christmas works featured on A Wondrous Mystery, a recording released last year by the ensemble Stile Antico. If you crave release from needless sentimentality this Christmas, this is a good place to start.

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Anno Domini 2017
Tuesday, November 29, 2016, 5:00 PM

Makes a great gift! Order yours by December 15 to ensure delivery by Christmas.*

2017 calendar bow Anno Domini 2017

The St. James Calendar of the Christian Year is . . .

december 2016 201x300 Anno Domini 2017» An 11 x 17 wall calendar with notes, quotations from the Church Fathers, bible verses, and 13 classic biblical engravings by artists such as Gustave Doré, Raphael, and Albrecht Durer

» Newly expanded, it includes hundreds of saints from antiquity commemorated on the same dates in Eastern and Western churches

» An excellent resource for churches, schools, ministries, and home-schoolers

» An educational gift for family, friends, co-workers, clients, and church members

» A daily reminder of the communion of the saints for your home or office. Order today! Only $14.95 each. (Order by December 15, 2016 to ensure delivery by Christmas. *Calendar does not ship gift-wrapped or with a bow!)

9bf555f5 587e 494c a360 75fc5d92e392 300x221 Anno Domini 2017The St. James Calendar of the Christian Year richly reflects the common, ecumenical heritage that all Christians share in the saints of the early, undivided Church as it is expressed in the calendars of the Western and Eastern churches.

Pride of place in the calendar, of course, belongs to the commemorations of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism, Triumphal Entry, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, among others.

1c9bce20 c652 4f9c 9165 399c2d3547ee 300x300 Anno Domini 2017Furthermore, and uniquely, our calendar lists saints from antiquity who are commemorated on the same dates in both Eastern and Western calendars. There are hundreds of such saints shared by East and West throughout the year, and we list them all.

This unique ecumenical calendar is thus an inspiring expression and daily reminder of the communion of the saints to which we all belong. It includes prophets, apostles, martyrs, missionaries, monks, children, married and unmarried, peasants and kings, preachers, bishops, and pastors, all members of the mystical Body of Christ, that great cloud of witnesses. In this way we can remember the saints every day, and be encouraged by their witness to Christ, the Lord of all.

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Your purchase of The 2017 St. James Calendar will help us continue our efforts to publish Touchstone, The Daily Devotional Guide, & Salvo!

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Atheists Overwhelmingly Prefer Hillary Clinton
Friday, August 26, 2016, 10:02 AM

GettyImages 514451786 300x187 Atheists Overwhelmingly Prefer Hillary Clintonby Michael Avramovich

On these pages, I posted an article about how pro-abortion advocates overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president. But there is another growing demographic group that also enthusiastically supports the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group that represents atheists, agnostics, and “free-thinkers,” recently released a presidential voting guide on those issues deemed to be most important to atheists. Candidates were evaluated on their public position on a host of issues, including their views of the separation of church and state, appointment of non-theists to governmental positions, whether religious views should impede reproductive health care access and comprehensive sex education in government schools, whether religious charities that receive government money for social services be mandated to support policies that conflict with the charity’s religious beliefs, whether the candidate would appoint “humanist” chaplains for the military, and whether human activity is the primary cause of global climate change. Donald Trump earned a low “F” grade, according to the atheist group because he has been “generally or consistently hostile or negative” regarding his stance on these issues. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, earned an “A” grade. As one example of the difference in their viewpoints, Ms. Clinton said that the United States was founded on the “separation between church and state,” whereas Mr. Trump has said that the United States was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation.

According to a recent survey, nearly 1 in 4 Americans now have no affiliation with any religion. And of those, one-half of Americans who have left their church no longer believe in God, with another 20 percent say that they do not like organized religion. So there is a new emerging demographic group in the United States of those who are leaving organized religion and even giving up on God. A July 2016 Pew Research Center poll found non-religious voters prefer Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump by an overwhelming 67 to 23 percent margin proving that large numbers of non-religious voters and atheists are also conservative.

Even to a casual observer, the religious landscape in the United States is changing. In addition to new religious traditions including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, there are growing numbers of persons in non-institutional belief systems such as humanism, atheism, and subjective spirituality. I could afford a nice vacation if I had a small coin for every person who told me over the years that they are not religious, but are instead “very spiritual.” Of course, each non-institutional belief system, including humanism and atheism, follow the same philosophical pattern as do most religions. For instance, humanism and atheism each deal with the important existential questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

In a recent article, Daniel Cox noted:

Diversity is now simply a fact of American religious life. It does not signal the end of religion, but it may make it easier for Americans to abstain from religious involvement and encourage other types of spiritual and philosophical explorations. It may also make atheists more willing to “come out.” . . . Organized religion has never been in jeopardy of dying out due to a single traumatic event. Instead, it is a cumulative series of unanswered challenges that pose the greatest risk. Religious diversity might not represent a dramatic threat to religion, but it may represent another small hole in an already sinking ship.

I suspect that Mr. Cox may not be right in that history is never linear. After all, predictions about the demise and disappearance of religious faith in society have been made and promoted, often with disastrous results, for a long time. And non-believing clergy have certainly not helped the cause of Jesus Christ. It is said that in 2012, millions of American Christians did not vote. Perhaps for many, there was less enthusiasm to vote because Mr. Romney was a Mormon. But for those of us who believe in God, and are citizens of a representative republic, voting is part of our spiritual duty. But if most Christians voted, then I think that the result of elections in this country would be much different. But for our atheist, agnostic, and “free-thinking” friends, I am reminded of the writings of C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Problem of Pain, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

From the publisher of Touchstone: Anno Domini 2017 Now Available
Monday, August 15, 2016, 3:40 PM

What Star Is This?
Monday, December 28, 2015, 11:27 AM

680053eb40158728ac876a58b82c2025 203x300 What Star Is This?From the January/February 2016 issue of Touchstone, senior editor Anthony Esolen looks at the Christmas hymn, What Star is This?

. . . “I see a star rise out of Jacob,” said Balaam, prophet on the take, and he did not know what his own words would mean. The wise men from Persia, no doubt familiar with the Hebrew prophecies, followed the path of a light across the heavens—a comet, a conjunction of planets, a nova?—to the house of the baby Jesus, and there they opened their coffers to him, giving him gifts that revealed who he is, as under figures and shadows: gold for his kingship, frankincense for his high priesthood, and myrrh for his most royal and most holy death. The sages themselves could not have plumbed the meaning of their gifts.

And indeed, everything on either side of the Epiphany dwells in a kind of twilight before dawn. The will of God is revealed to Joseph in dreams, four times, and that good man utters not one word. The sages go where there should be light, to Herod the king of Judea, and to his counselors, and these tell him that the Christ would be born in the House of Bread, Bethlehem, the city of David. But the sages seem instead to look again to the silent star for direction, and after they see the child, they too dream dreams, and go home by a secret route, filled with rejoicing.

If only the star they saw would shine for us, we too might go seek the young child and do him homage! But it does shine for us. It shines in the dark and quiet working of grace. That is the lesson of What Star Is This, a hymn that urges us to be on our way, best sung to the vigorous alternating quarter notes and half notes of Praetorius’ Puer Nobis. The first two stanzas place us with the wise men on their journey, as they treasure the prophecies in their hearts: . . .

On “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Monday, December 21, 2015, 11:31 AM

tree ornament 210x300 On Ill Be Home for Christmas

From the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Touchstone.

Our Christmas Home

William E. Graddy on the Deepest Longings of the Restless & the Lonely

It seems that every other store or coffee shop I visited three years ago this December was playing either “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The sock-hoppish cheerfulness of the one was even more glaringly out of key with our national mood that winter than the twilight wistfulness of the other, but the continuing popularity of “I’ll Be Home” remains the greater puzzle to me nonetheless. After all, the power of this slow, quiet song lies mostly in the historical moment it captures—the weariness, the dislocation, and perhaps especially the bittersweet hope-against-hope that millions of Americans felt in 1943, when it was released. And awareness of the past, certainly any vital sense of connection with it, has shrunk to the vanishing point in our collective psyche.

At least as strikingly absent is the bond, echoed poignantly in Bing Crosby’s song, between the state and the individual, particularly between the civilian and the soldier, that held strong in our grandparents’ era. Rosie the Riveter’s body may have been stateside, but her heart was in the Pacific, or Europe, or Africa with the troops. Fred or Eddie the GI may have just dodged shrapnel bursts or fought past exhaustion in Anzio, but give either a minute and a scrap of paper, and he’d be writing the folks back home in Ohio. In the waning months of 2012, though, we listened to the same rich but sad voice intone “I’ll Be Home” scores of times over in Starbucks or Target, but we sipped our lattes and stroked our smartphones without a flicker of recognition that (a) we were hearing a song about war, and (b) we as a nation were at war—our longest war yet—right then.

The explanations for that profound disconnect are complex, but the two I’d like to posit here, our relentless mobility and its corollary, our radical identification of identity with separateness, resonate in surprising ways with the facts of Jesus’ birth, facts that we’ve grown adept at listening past and are used to hearing spoken in inappropriately smooth voices. . . .

read the rest…

Save the Date for SpeakOut Illinois!
Wednesday, December 9, 2015, 9:37 AM

logo2016 300x177 Save the Date for SpeakOut Illinois!

Please save Saturday, January 30, 2016 for the SpeakOut Illinois 2016 conference that will be held at the Chicago Marriott Oak Brook. SpeakOut Illinois is a coalition of over 40 pro-life and pro-family organizations in Illinois, and the Fellowship of St. James is a member.

2016 Conference Theme: Illinois Lives Matter!

Keynote speaker: Dr. Anthony Levatino

Life is Fragile: Handle With Care

Having performed abortions as part of his obstetrical practice in the early 1980s, Dr. Levatino experienced a profound change of heart. Since then, he has continued his pro-life efforts to turn back the tide on the culture of death brought by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. He will speak on fetal development, prenatal testing and what abortion—during both first and second trimesters—actually does to a baby.

Plenary Speaker: Dan Proft

Children Left Behind? Adoption, Special Needs & the Sad State of Illinois Children

Radio talk show host (WIND-AM 560) and former Republican candidate for governor, Mr. Proft will speak on adoption and the dismal lack of funding for parents with children with disabilities in Illinois.

Plenary Panel: Facing an Unexpected Prenatal Diagnosis

  • Colleen Malloy, Associate Clinician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, board certified in Neonatology and Pediatrics, neonatologist for Lurie Children’s Hospital. She will speak from a medical and scientific perspective on the facts about prenatal diagnoses.
  • Jeannie French, health consultant, will a poor prenatal diagnosis for her twins and being pressured to abort. She chose life; one twin died shortly after birth and the other survived.
  • Mary Kellett, Founder of Prenatal Partners for Life, will talk about the work of this non-profit ministry that offers practical support, information and encouragement to families that receive an adverse diagnosis before or after the birth of their child.

Also concurrent with the conference, Generations for Life is excited to bring you TeenSpeak 2016, Illinois’ largest annual pro-life teen conference.

TeenSpeak 2016 is open to high school and college-age teens, and adults who work with them—teachers, youth ministers, pro-life club moderators, parents, etc.

TeenSpeak 2016 will feature Josh Brahm of the Equal Rights Institute. Josh has worked in the pro-life movement since he was 18. After 12 years of full-time pro-life work he launched Equal Rights Institute to maximize his impact for the movement, focusing on rigorous philosophy and relational apologetics.

The TeenSpeak 2016 conference will begin at 9:00 a.m. and will conclude at 2:30 p.m.

For more information on Speak Out Illinois and Teen Speak, please visit http://speakoutillinois.org/index.php.


Review for Submission
Friday, November 6, 2015, 2:24 PM

Since it has recently been translated into English, I have noticed a number of reviews for Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission. I would like to remind our readers here of the review for Touchstone (May/June 2015) by Graeme Hunter.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015, was a day when fact crashed into fiction. The novel, Soumission (Submission) by Michel Houellebecq, depicting a near future in which France submits to Islam, was released for publication on that day. So was a new issue of the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, with Houellebecq as the featured author.

That same morning two Islamic terrorists paid a visit to the offices of Charlie Hebdo to avenge the Islam-baiting cartoons that had appeared in the previous issue. The gunmen killed eleven people there, including the editor, a friend of Houellebecq, and wounded eleven others. Houellebecq canceled all future promotional gigs for his novel, accepted police protection, and went into hiding. Reality or fiction? Is there a difference? Continue reading . . .

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