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Looking to the Rock
Wednesday, April 22, 2015, 11:16 AM

Al Deir Petra Looking to the RockI have had the privilege of serving on the board of the Davenant Trust, whose “aim is to revitalize contemporary Reformed and evangelical discourse by sponsoring scholarly endeavors at the intersection of the church and academy: the proliferation of the digital archive, the retrieval and translation of classic texts, the development and support of Christian study centers, and the sponsorship of individual scholars engaged in historical work for the sake of the contemporary church.”

One of the efforts the Trust has undertaken in service of historical and theological ressourcement is the Davenant Latin Institute, which is set to offer three different levels of courses in instruction in Latin. The courses will focus on introducing and deepening Latin language skills in an online environment. Many seminaries and graduate schools, particularly Protestant ones, do not offer much in the way of Latin training. DLI hopes to provide a much-needed service to those who otherwise would go without access to such instruction.

As the project indicates, “Latin was for seventeen centuries the language of the Western Church, and many of its greatest treasures — not merely of the Church Fathers and medieval theologians, but of the Protestant Reformers and their heirs — still lie locked up in this forgotten tongue.” As a Reformed theologian with interests in church history and particularly the Reformation, one of the great contemporary needs I have seen is a better understanding of church history in general, and the teachings and traditions of respective Christian denominations, churches, and families of churches in particular. For those called to leadership in the church today, familiarity with and immersion in the texts of the Christian church are indispensable.

The motto of the Davenant Trust is, fittingly, in Latin: “Adtendite ad petram unde excisi estis.” Those who take courses from the DLI will be able to recognize such passages, in this case a reference to Isaiah 51:1, which reads in our vernacular, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn.” In the theology of the Christian West, that rock was predominantly Latin, or petram. The Davenant Latin Institute promises to help us better look to that rock and through such work come to a better understanding of Christ and his church. For those of you who might benefit from such instruction, I am happy to commend the program to your consideration.

A Generation’s Broken Arrows
Monday, July 7, 2014, 11:43 AM

Daniel Payne writes over at The Federalist of “The New Sins Of ‘Nonjudgmental’ Millennials.”

If you speak to the average 20-something or Millennial about the concept of sin, you may be treated to a kind of quasi-Unitarian dismissal of the concept, a sort of uncomfortable rejection of the notion of ecclesiastical proscription in any sense: “I’m very spiritual,” you’ll hear a lot, “but not religious.” What this looks like in practice is generally a dismissal of accountability towards any higher power, or at least towards any rules He might impose upon His people: It is, after all, 2014.

Yet the Millennials, having sloughed off the religious notions of their parents and grandparents—at least one-third of Generation Yers are more or less without religion—have taken it upon themselves to adopt a new set of mandates and dictates to guide their lives. Call them the “new sins,” a number of commandments by which one might stay on the narrow way. The old interdictions now cast aside, a new series of injunctions must be obeyed: and like most religions and denominations, adherence to these commandments is held sacrosanct, any deviation from them fairly blasphemous. Religion may be out for a large number of Millennials, but its vacuum has been more or less filled.

Payne goes on to list some of these “new sins,” including answering wrong with respect to climate change, homosexuality, and a politicized rendering of social justice. Payne’s identification of the “dismissal of accountability towards any higher power” reminds me of the Kacey Musgraves song, “Follow Your Arrow,” which embodies the tension of legalistically rejecting legalisms.

Musgraves’ song tries to walk the middle path between various forms of hypocrisy and judgmentalism. But the new law set up in place of inherited fundamentalism is the call, not to put off the old self and to follow Jesus, but rather to “follow your arrow wherever it points.”

There is little sense that our arrows might be bent, much less broken. And in this, “Follow Your Arrow” captures the spirit of a broken and bent generation.

The Future and End of Protestantism
Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 8:42 AM

Tonight the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University is hosting a conversation on “The Future of Protestantism” featuring Peter Leithart, Carl Trueman, Fred Sanders and moderated by Peter Escalante. The event is going to be livestreamed at 7pm Pacific (10pm Eastern), and is co-sponsored by THI, The Davenant Trust, and First Things.

Leithart’s essay, “The End of Protestantism,” serves as the proximate background for the conversation, which is sure to feature some sharp analysis, historical insight, and snappy retorts. I’m planning to post some thoughts about the event later this week.

thi fop masthead 1024x317 The Future and End of Protestantism

To learn more about The Davenant Trust, a new organization committed to Reformed and evangelical resourcement, the first two parts of the Trust’s founder Brad Littlejohn are up at the IRD’s blog (part 1 / part 2).

Abortion and Alternative Energy
Thursday, April 24, 2014, 10:55 AM

Given his positions on abortion and fossil fuels, one might perhaps be excused for thinking that Desmond Tutu might consider fetal tissue to be a morally superior alternative source of energy to oil.

Both are, it seems, being imported from Canada to the United States. As the AP reports, “An Oregon county commission has ordered an incinerator to stop accepting boxed medical waste to generate electricity after learning the waste it’s been burning may include tissue from aborted fetuses from British Columbia.”

matrix batteries 300x151 Abortion and Alternative Energy
As I wrote over at The Federalist earlier this week in response to Tutu’s invective against the Keystone XL pipeline, “The preservationist account of Christian environmental responsibility tends to view human activity as destructive and abusive in ways that parallel the secular and even pagan perspectives of other environmental activists. This is also why such accounts, whether Christian or not, tend to view the human population as a problem to be controlled rather than a blessing to be celebrated.”

Plantinga on the Ham-Nye Debate
Thursday, March 13, 2014, 9:41 AM

One of the things that struck me in my work on the ecumenical movement was the extent to which social factors influence the sense of fraternity that Christians feel about one another.

I’ve often been confused that Christians of a more liberal bent, whether theological, political, or otherwise, come across as far friendlier and more aligned with their secular counterparts than fellow believers of a more conservative, traditionalist, or (gasp!) fundamentalist disposition. Try to find a progressive or liberal Christian professing unity (mystical, spiritual, or otherwise) with someone like Jerry Falwell. I’d be glad to see an instance of it. The same is true, by the by, for many more conservative Christians. They are far more amenable to the likes of a professed atheist or agnostic secular conservative than many progressives.

In some sense if Machen is right, that liberalism and Christianity are two different religions, then the reason for this is explicable, at least to a point. But I do think there are social sources of factionalism that are not so theologically motivated or principled.

 Plantinga on the Ham Nye Debate

Alvin Plantinga

In conversing with a friend on this phenomenon the other day, he noted in passing what was a kind of charitable interpretation of young earth creationists relative to that of atheists in Alvin Plantinga’s magisterial Warranted Christian Belief. Consider this, then, a kind of comment from Plantinga relevant to the sort of thing on display in the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.

It comes in footnote 25 on p. 217 of WCB (or footnote 260 in this online version), in which Plantinga is discussing the noetic effects of sin. The model to which Plantinga refers is his “sensus divinitatis” model, according to which “the most important truths about [people] is that we have been created by the Lord and utterly depend upon him for our continued existence.” Here Plantinga notes:

In this connection, consider the despised creationists, who believe that the world is only ten thousand years old: they are ignorant, pitifully ignorant about when God created the world. From the point of view of the model, this ignorance pales into utter insignificance compared with that of many of their cultured detractors, who foolishly believe that there is no God and thus (naturally enough) are ignorant of the vastly more important fact that the world was, indeed, created by God.

Perhaps not a ringing endorsement of someone like Ken Ham, but it is at least an acknowledgment of the relative unity of creationists of any kind as compared to that of creationism’s “cultured detractors.”

Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Again)
Thursday, January 23, 2014, 9:55 AM

The Journal Summer 2013 210x300 Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Again)In light of the ecumenical nature of much of the advocacy at yesterday’s March for Life, I think it’s worth highlighting a recent effort at constructive dialogue between evangelicals and Roman Catholics that has not received much notice: “Evangelicals and Catholics Together on Law: The Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

The statement has been eight years in the making and takes its inspiration (as seen by the title) from the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). The statement appeared in the summer issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought, and you can read a PDF here. As Mike Schutt, who edits the journal, notes, signatories to the statement include Os Guinness, Barb Armacost, and David Skeel, Robert George, Rick Garnett, and Russell Hittinger.

The latest issue of the journal featured a number of responses to the statement, including one from me under the title, “The Ecumenical Challenge of Catholicity.”

Diogenes’ Response to the Human-Hybrid Hypothesis
Thursday, December 5, 2013, 11:01 AM

Diogenes looking for a man   attributed to JHW Tischbein Diogenes Response to the Human Hybrid Hypothesis

Diogenes is still looking for an honest man.

Eugene M. McCarthy, a geneticist, thinks humans are hybrids. Specifically, he concludes that there is strong evidence supporting the hypothesis “that pigs did in fact cross with apes to produce the human race.”

His discussion includes exploration of physical features shared between humans and pigs, including “lightly pigmented eyes, in shades of blue, green, and tan,” which “are never found in chimpanzees or orangutans.” So my blue eyes make me more pig-like than other people, perhaps.

Much of this is far too technical for me to really understand. Anything we don’t share in terms of physical characteristics with apes can presumably be traced to pigs. This is taken to be of such significance as if all that distinguishes human beings from other animals is the particular arrangement of material parts.

But it does remind me a bit of the exposure of the limits of human understanding illustrated in the anecdotal exchange between Plato and Diogenes of Sinope. Plato was working with a definition of a human being as a “featherless biped.” Diogenes plucks all the feathers off of a chicken, and returns to Plato, triumphantly exclaiming: “Behold, a man!” At this, Plato modifies his definition a bit: a human being is a featherless biped, with broad, flat nails.

I get the sense that Diogenes’ response to McCarthy would be to come to us with a pig in one hand and an ape in the other, and proclaim: “Behold, a man!”

This might require us to move beyond merely materialistic definitions of the human being.

Bored to Death
Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 2:01 PM

Johnny Cash said this about the line from Folsom Prison Blues: “And I thought about what was the most evil thing a man, evil reason a man could do for killin’ somebody. And I figured, just to watch him die, you know, might be a pretty evil reason.”


One of three juveniles arrested by police is said to have confessed to a murder with these words: “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.”

Being bored to death, literally, is the terminus ad quem of nihilism.

Francis Schaeffer at International Congress of World Evangelism 1974
Thursday, June 27, 2013, 9:32 AM

Francis Schaeffer at International Congress of World Evangelism, Lausanne, Switzerland, July 1974 from francisschaefferstudies.org on Vimeo.

“God made the whole man, and the whole man is redeemed in Jesus Christ. And the lordship of Christ covers the whole of life.”

Challenges for Pres. Obama over Syria and Security
Monday, June 17, 2013, 1:31 PM

Rep. Justin Amash (an Orthodox Christian, of Syrian and Palestinian extraction) had a brief but salient posting on his Facebook page over the weekend:

While the al-Qaeda-allied Syrian rebels murder Christians and desecrate churches, Pres. Obama sends them weapons to continue their rampage—all while the President fights to restrict Americans’ gun rights here at home and treats all Americans as terror suspects who must be constantly spied on.

Over at Patheos, Thomas L. McDonald shares his own incredulity:

In the midst of revelations exposing the worst violations of our 1st and 4th Amendment rights in the nation’s history, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is, for the third time in his presidency, authorizing military aid and action in a country in which we have no direct interest and without consulting either Congress or the UN. This military action is coming in the form of weapons and air support for a group allied with terrorist forces we are fighting all around the globe, and which were responsible for 9/11 and countless other atrocities. This particular plucky Rebel Alliance have massacred villagers, targeted and killed Christians, and publicly executed a teenager in front of his family for making a joke about Islam.

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