NEW from the March/April 2013 issue of Touchstone.
Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction
by Terence Nichols
reviewed by Graeme Hunter
Diane, a mother in her mid-forties, is dying of leukemia, leaving behind her husband and two teenage boys. The stuff of domestic tragedy. You can easily imagine distraught relatives, and nagging questions that have no reply.
However, in Terence Nichols’s fine book, Death and Afterlife, Diane’s death figures as a luminous episode, which left her loved ones with “an inexplicable sense of peace and joy.” Her story serves as a frame for Nichols’s book, not only to introduce the wider themes of death and what comes after, but also to prepare the reader to consider the forgotten art of “dying well,” the master theme towards which the story builds.
It was wise to defer that unfamiliar theme to the end of the book. Modern people need all the help they can get to grasp an idea so out of keeping with the age. A world as materialistic, scientistic, and consumerist as ours inclines by its nature to impulsive self-absorption, and is little given to introspection about death or the inscrutable reality behind death’s door. Instinctively the modern mind thrusts aside such meditations as morbid and medieval. In their place we put the celebration of life. Think of the new style of obituary, in which we are promised a celebration of the loved one’s life but seldom a funeral, much less a Service or Mass of Christian Burial. Lacking the concepts to deal intelligently with death, we think it better to avert our gaze.
A Better Approach
Nichols’s engaging book offers readers something better. It presents the Christian Church’s considered wisdom about death and the afterlife in a manner that is both informed and practical. It addresses the difficulty of integrating Christian belief on these matters with modern presuppositions, and only then turns to offering practical ways of making the contemplation of mortality, resurrection, and eternal life our means of dying well.
continue reading . . .
Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 1:50 PM
NEW from the March/April issue of Touchstone:
The Greatest Drama Ever
On June 4, 1955, C. S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that “as always in Holy Week,” he had been “re-reading [Sayers's] The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well.” We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.
The Man Born to Be King is a series of radio plays, twelve in all, dramatizing the life of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection. First broadcast by the BBC in 1941–1942, they were published in 1943, together with Sayers’s notes for each play and a long Introduction she wrote recounting both her aims and approaches in writing the plays and some of the first (often comical) reactions from the public.
Sayers did not suffer fools gladly, and she takes evident delight in recounting objections, many of which grew out of a kind of piety that resisted the deliberate realism of the plays. Thus, for example, among those who wrote her with objections was one who objected to her having Herod tell his court, “Keep your mouths shut.” The reason for the objection? Such “coarse expressions” struck the correspondent as “jarring on the lips of any one ‘so closely connected with our Lord.’”
Of course, some of the objections can be better understood and may seem less comical if we note how much has changed since the plays were first broadcast roughly three-quarters of a century ago. Sayers notes in her Introduction that British law at the time prohibited “the representation on the stage of any Person of the Holy Trinity”—and this, in turn, encouraged listeners to think of Jesus in ways that could scarcely do justice to his genuine humanity. Therefore, while observing within Christian sacred art “a dialectic” that emphasizes sometimes the incarnation of the eternal Word in Jesus, and other times the “scandal of particularity” in Jesus the first-century Jew, her plays tilt in the latter direction, toward a kind of realistic narrative. Jesus is, quite simply, the man born to be king.
There were, though, other difficulties confronting her that have not changed much over time. For the British public at the time she wrote—but also, in many cases, for us today—the Gospels were known chiefly “as a collection of disjointed texts and moral aphorisms wrenched from their contexts.” This is, after all, the way we read them Sunday after Sunday. There is nothing wrong with doing so; indeed, there is much that is right about it. Still, it creates problems for the dramatist who aims to produce a story that is coherent in its overall trajectory and in its several episodes.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013, 9:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 9:59 AM
On the Adventures of Gift-Giving in a Large Family
It was one of our more embarrassing Christmases. It started when our daughter Isabel opened her grandmother’s gift: a beautiful doll of a newborn baby. It was exactly what she had wanted. It was also identical to the one from me that she had opened a minute before. Obviously, I had gotten my Christmas lists mixed up.
But I was thinking on my feet that morning.
“Oh look, Isabel!” I exclaimed, “Twins!”
Isabel’s puzzled look turned to a smile.
I wasn’t so lucky with Teresa, who was staring at her jewelry kit in bewilderment.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s not that,” she said at last. “It’s just that Marta gave this to me at my birthday party back in July. Don’t you remember? You put it away right away so that John wouldn’t eat the beads.”
“I thought you bought it for her,” my husband whispered to me.
“I thought you bought it for her,” I whispered back.
“At least,” he sighed, “we gave it to the right kid.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that this had happened—like hobbits, we give away so many gifts in our family of twelve that we end up using a lot of recycled ones. We even have a mathom chest where we store gifts between incarnations. It’s just that we do try not to give the same thing twice to the same child.
continue reading . . .
These Christmas adventures by Rebecca Sicree have been a regular feature in November/December issues of Touchstone for the last couple years now and they are very fun reads.
On the New Adventures of the Baby Jesus
On the Bethlehem Baboon & Other Christmas Traditions
Monday, October 29, 2012, 10:06 AM
On the Missing Element in a Government Jobs Strategy
Daniel Patrick Moynihan (the longtime Democratic senator from New York) once suggested instituting twice-daily mail service as a way of providing good government jobs for African-American males. Moynihan’s notion demonstrates that modern liberals do not always build up the number of government jobs because more employees are needed to accomplish some mission, but because they are trying to provide a quality lifestyle for large numbers of people. In other words, the job itself (the entry on the payroll) is the mission.
In his response to President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels commented that the president appears to sincerely believe that a middle class can be created with government jobs paid for by government dollars. Perhaps such a position would not be so fantastic if there were a different spiritual core at the heart of modern left-liberalism.
continue reading . . .
Friday, October 26, 2012, 9:25 AM
Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat reviewed by Leon J. Podles
. . .
Ross Douthat has observed the decline of Christian orthodoxy in America, and his thesis in Bad Religion is simple: although the United States remains a religious nation, the religions that are flourishing are Christian heresies. Douthat uses Alister McGrath’s definition of heresy, which is “best seen as a form of Christian belief that, more by accident than design, ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing or even destroying the core of Christian faith” (Bad Religion, 9). Douthat also largely concurs with Chesterton’s view of heretics as simplifiers who want to resolve the paradoxes and tensions of Christianity by discarding or distorting a key element in the Christian synthesis.
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Thursday, October 25, 2012, 9:30 AM
On Maurice Sendak & the Horror of a Domesticated Gospel
Maurice Sendak was, by all accounts, a lonely, misanthropic, cynical, homosexual atheist. But he managed, with his dozens of children’s books, to unite a generation around a sense of wonder and creativity. When I heard, a few days ago as I write this, that he died, I lamented not only his passing, but all that he has to teach a church he never embraced.
Sendak’s most famous work, of course, is his children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. It’s about a boy named Max, who is sent to his room for telling his mother he’ll eat her up. My sons love this story. Whenever I read it, they start shifting around in their seats as they hear about his room becoming a forest, and about his encountering scary, teeth-baring “wild things.”
My boys aren’t unusual. I loved that story as much as they do, when I was their age. And when I talk to people about my age, I find that this book has struck, and strikes, a particular resonance with at least two generations of American children, no matter what their racial, social, economic, or religious backgrounds. The root of that lies, I think, in the fact that Sendak had a more realistic view of evil than many Christians do, at least when it comes to our children.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012, 11:23 AM
Pious Public Silence Is Dereliction of Duty
From time to time, some orthodox Christians wonder aloud whether the pro-life movement, the struggle to defend the integrity of marriage, and other “social issues” implicate believers in an overly political activity that is a distortion of their faith. It would be best, they argue, for Christians simply to bear witness to their beliefs—even more in their lives than in their words—and not to politicize religion.
The dangers in such politicization are real enough. Christians can indeed become so involved in causes as to define their faith exclusively in those terms, to lose sight of why they are involved, and to push into the background everything that does not relate directly to those causes—a mirror image of what liberal religion has become.
Believers are also routinely condemned by secularists for “intruding” their beliefs into the public square, a charge that assumes something uniquely sinister about religion; citizens may form their principles in any way they choose (astrology, throwing dice) except religion. The obvious response is that Christians have as much right to be in the public square as anyone else, but it is a response that is less than satisfactory. Is Christian morality to enjoy only the formal tolerance accorded all other schools of thought?
Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 10:44 AM
Now available at touchstonemag.com, a book review from the March/April 2012 issue of Touchstone:
Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith
by Clifford Williams
IVP Academic, 2011
(188 pages, $22.00, paperback)
reviewed by Louis Markos
It has been two decades now since such writers as Alasdair McIntyre, Mark Noll, and Lesslie Newbigin (and, before them, Francis Schaeffer) alerted us to the fact that we are still living in the Enlightenment. Starting in the eighteenth century, and picking up speed in the nineteenth, Western thinkers began to drive a wedge between reason and emotion, logic and intuition, history and myth, science and religion. For each pair (or binary), the first word was privileged over the second as the proper vehicle for seeking truth. The upshot of this Enlightenment split between empirical facts and spiritual values was to slowly edge Christianity out of the universities and the public square and into a tight, private, self-referential box cut off from the concerns of analysis, research, debate, and “real” life.
Thus things remained until an Oxford English professor named C. S. Lewis bravely challenged the reigning orthodoxy of the Enlightenment: an orthodoxy so pervasive and invisible that it had come to be taken for granted as “the truth.” In his apologetical writings of the 1940s and 1950s, Lewis dared to suggest that Christianity represented a rational, consistent, and testable worldview that had never been disproven and that deserved a place at the table. In his wake, an ever-growing cadre of Christian thinkers, both inside and outside academia, have similarly wrested their minds free of the Enlightenment split to champion the intellectual integrity and fruitfulness of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
The result has been stunning: a steady stream of carefully constructed, powerfully argued, cutting-edge books that have mounted a logical, systematic defense of Christ, the Creeds, and the Church. From miracles to the problem of pain, the historicity of the Resurrection to the reliability of the Gospels, these books have marshaled the critical tools of the secular university to address issues and answer questions that have long been used by Enlightenment-minded academics to dismiss the truth claims of Christianity. Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, Chuck Colson, Alister McGrath, J. P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, N. T. Wright, and dozens of others have fought the good fight, using their apologetical arguments to help restore the intellectual reputation of Christianity to its pre-Enlightenment status.
They have done well indeed, but they also have, it could be argued, made a methodological error. In their praiseworthy campaign to champion the rational side of Christianity, many apologists have bought into the very Enlightenment split they set out to rectify. That is to say, they have taken for granted that the truth of Christianity rises or falls on the appeal it makes to reason. “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity,” Lewis assures us in Book III, Chapter 11 of Mere Christianity, “if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it.” Though there is much more to Lewis than this, the statement embodies well the goal of most modern apologists: to prove that Christianity is not an emotional, feel-good religion but a logically consistent belief system.
Reclaiming Existential Apologetics
Enter Clifford Williams, a professor of philosophy at Trinity College (Deerfield, IL) who specializes in the work of Kierkegaard. In Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, Williams, following in the footsteps not only of Kierkegaard but also of Pascal, challenges apologists who would too quickly accept the facts/values split.
read the rest . . .
Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 9:58 AM
« Newer Posts
The May/June 2012 issue of Touchstone is now available online in its entirety to subscribers, and a number of articles are available for reading at www.touchstonemag.com. Featured on the cover of this issue is The Soul of Liberty by Hunter Baker.
Calls for Freedom, Democracy & Secularism End Up with None of the Above
by Hunter Baker
You can find a lot of interesting things on Twitter packaged in pithy statements of no more than 140 characters each. Some of you may recall that in the aftermath of the 2009 election in Iran, a number of protesters claimed that the government had tampered with the results to stay in power. Twitter was a key channel they used both to express their outrage and to receive support from sympathetic Westerners, many of whom shaded their profile pictures green as a sign of solidarity. I happened upon a number of short statements from students in Iran who asked for “Freedom, Democracy, and Secularism!”
Having studied the history of the West and paid particular attention to the question of religion and politics, this combination of concepts struck me as odd. But it obviously resonates with many Iranian students, who repeatedly use the Internet to call for this combination of political ideals. I find it again and again. They seem to believe it is the formula.
But do these three concepts belong together?
continue reading . . .
Also online from May/June 2012:
Thomas Howard on What We Used to Know vs. What We Know Now
. . .
As I try to form my prayers here, I recall that he is the one who “covereth the heaven with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth; and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains, and herb for the use of men: Who giveth fodder unto the cattle: and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him.” If that picture has any rag of validity, as the patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists seemed to suppose, then what can one say but Benedicite, omnia opera Domini Domino—Bless
Herein lies the rub for us who live in the post-Baconian-Cartesian-Kantian epoch. Does God do all that? Surely the works of the Lord don’t in any sense “bless” him. That’s just (“just”) poetry. Primitive Hebrew zeal. The Pathetic Fallacy. All of those things, we say, are merely programmed by “Nature,” which gets on with its own strange agenda.
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A Thousand Words
Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man
by Mary Elizabeth Podles
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Leonardo’s Man is more than just a well-proportioned dude. If God is a mathematician, and man conforms to the symmetries of God’s ideal forms, is man not a reflection of that divine perfection? An image, in small, of the harmonies and symmetries of the universe? A microcosm of the greater cosmos?
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