Eric Liddell: Life after the Olympics
Friday, August 10, 2012, 11:29 AM

AbsoluteSurrender 300x300 Eric Liddell: Life after the OlympicsMy friend Eric Eichinger, a pastor in the LCMS and a former Division I track runner at my alma mater Michigan State, was inspired as a child by the story of Eric Liddell, the subject of the acclaimed film Chariots of Fire. After the 1924 Olympics Liddell “returned to China on the eve of World War II to join his family and continue his missionary work at tremendous personal sacrifice.”

Liddell’s life story inspired Eichinger, who spent some time of his own in China, and said,

While in China, I visited the hospital where Eric died serving the people he loved. It had a profound effect on me. I began researching his life and ultimately, wrote a screenplay entitled Absolute Surrender that reflects his journey after the Olympics.

Check out the feature below about the project to tell the story of Liddell’s life after the Olympics, including Eichinger’s recent trip to London, and keep up with the film project (on Twitter and Facebook):

Olympian Religion
Thursday, July 26, 2012, 10:31 AM

Chris Lisee of the Religion News Service (RNS) has a piece tracing similarities, differences, and developments in religion between the ancient and modern Olympic Games. David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona, says, “There are many similarities, but there are also differences. And one of the biggest differences is religion.”

Some of the specific issues facing modern athletes, for instance, have to do with religious observance, such as fasting during Ramadan.

But according to the scandalous accounts of carnal exploits alluded to yesterday, worship of the god of pleasure seems to be one of the constants between the ancient and contemporary worlds.

Some of the Perks of Being an Olympic Athlete
Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 1:45 PM

In addition to the record number of free condoms being provided for athletes, it looks like Olympians heading to London this week will also be able to get a free copy of the Bible. No word on whether 50 Shades of Grey is also being offered gratis.

In London, Olympic athletes offered free sports Bibles

By Jo Siedlecka
25 July (ENInews)–Athletes competing at Olympic Games beginning on 27 July are being offered copies of the “Sports Good News Bible” and the “Sports Good News Gospel of Luke,” thanks to an initiative of the Bible Society.

These special editions, illustrated with line drawings by Swiss artist Annie Vallatton, use the Good News English translation and include an additional 40 pages connecting sport with faith through stories and reflections from a range of Christian ministries. Subjects include “What does sport have to do with the Bible?” and “Where does it talk about teamwork, training, setting goals and breaking records?”

“The Bible offers words of deep consolation, inspiration and challenge, themes which resonate with athletes from around the world,” said Matthew van Duyvenbode, head of advocacy at the Bible Society. “Having the opportunity to offer the scriptures in a format accessible for sports people is a strong statement that the Bible belongs at the heart of every aspect of life.”

Bible Society group chief executive officer James Catford said: “The achievements we gain on the outside are driven by the people we are on the inside–that’s what we discover in the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus written by Luke and found within the Christian Scriptures.”

3,000 copies have been made available in English, and about 1,000 in other languages.

Being on God’s Side without Knowing It
Friday, June 8, 2012, 3:35 PM

Luther Gasoline 300x168 Being on Gods Side without Knowing It

Luther: "So many times I’ve tried to help people by doing things that I shouldn’t have done, and it’s only made it worse."

Over at the website for Comment magazine, run by the fine folks at the Canadian think tank Cardus, I have a piece on the BBC drama “Luther,” which focuses on the trials and travails of DCI John Luther (played by the very talented Idris Elba).

The point of departure for the essay, “Get Your Hands Dirty: The Vocational Theology of Luther,” is, well, just how Lutheran DCI Luther is. I don’t mean that in any straightforward way. There’s little religiosity in the series, although as with any good fiction it does deal seriously with the realities and messiness of the moral order and the permanent things.

No, John Luther is “Lutheran” in the very unconventional sense that he fulfills a kind of sacrificial calling, not toward salvation in any ultimate sense, but certainly in at least a temporal and transitory way. One of the taglines for the series is: “What if you were on the devil’s side without knowing it?” By the same token I wonder: “What if Luther is on God’s side without knowing it?” Beyond the traditional Lutheran formula of simul iustus et peccator, I have another reason for inverting the question this way.

It’s said that the first meeting between Karl Barth and the younger Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in the context of a seminar that Barth was conducting. Barth took notice of Bonhoeffer when the latter quoted Luther’s dictum: “God would rather hear the curses of the godless than the hallelujahs of the pious.”

Well, it was a creative paraphrase, in any case. What Luther really said (LW 25:390-91) was,

For our God is not a God of impatience and cruelty, even toward the ungodly. I am saying this for the comfort of those who are perpetually troubled by thoughts of blasphemies and are in great anxiety; since such blasphemies, because they are violently extorted from men by the devil against their will, they sometimes sound more pleasant in the ear of God than a hallelujah or some kind of hymn of praise. For the more horrible and foul the blasphemy, the more agreeable it is to God, if the heart knows that it does not will this, because the heart did not produce it or choose it.

So at least one of the analogues in Luther’s own work isn’t about the “godless” at all. But for a long time I have struggled with Bonhoeffer’s paraphrase.

I think in DCI John Luther we see an aspect of what Bonhoeffer’s paraphrase might be taken to mean. Even the godless fulfill God’s purpose, and indeed, especially in the case of the civil authorities, are tools God uses to maintain order and punish evil. For Bonhoeffer’s ethical thought, the idea of “vicarious representative action” (Stellvertretung) is central. In DCI Luther, we see a secular image of what a broken and impartial reflection of such action might look like.

This aspect of the series reminds me of the “scapegoat” motif that can be found in such contemporary works as The Hunger Games trilogy. As Rev. Robert Barron noted in that context, “at the heart of Christian revelation is God’s utter identification, not with the perpetrators of violence, but with the scapegoated victim. The crucified Jesus is hence the undermining of the dynamic that has undergirded most civilizations and that continues to beguile the human imagination to this day.”

Even the godless, then, who curse the injustice they see in the world and sacrificially work against it in their own small, imperfect, and incomplete ways, might in some limited way be on “God’s side without knowing it.”

Quebec Student Protests at 100 Days
Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 8:59 PM

Over the next couple of weeks I have the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec. I’m teaching a course on Christian ethics and contemporary culture at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary, located in the heart of downtown Montreal. Ahead of my time here I had attempted to at least superficially familiarize myself with some of the recent local news.

One of the stories that has dominated news, not just in Quebec and Canada but has even received coverage more broadly, are the student strikes in Quebec. The Canadian think tank Cardus has helped me to keep abreast of some of the developments. Today, Cardus’ Peter Stockland wrote,

This is a province in the grip of reactionary progressives afflicted with severe intellectual and institutional sclerosis. Their malaise prevents any proposals for change from being given fair hearing, much less a chance of being put into play. Real change, not merely revolutionary play-acting, is anathema in this province.

Stockland is writing within the context of the 100th day of the student strike over “modestly higher annual tuition fees” at the college level in Quebec. This is, of course, an enormously complex phenomenon with important history and local context that I could not hope to understand from skimming a few headlines and visiting here for a couple of weeks.

When seeing a story like this, for instance, in which protesters broke up classes after which “professors fled,” you have to take into account that there are student unions that authorized a strike. This certainly does not legitimize violent behavior or intimidation, what Stockland calls “violent, bully boy tactics.”

But I did have a chance to see some of the protests firsthand today, which were perfectly timed by the students to disrupt the city’s rush hour traffic this afternoon. They were essentially marching around a number of city block preventing cars from moving.

And over at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, I do take the liberty of musing on whether striking over the cost of higher education is the inevitable end of the logic of the welfare state.

Strange Maps of the Past
Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 11:43 AM

Tarald Rasmussen Strange Maps of the PastLast week I was at the second annual RefoRC (Reformation Research Consortium) conference hosted by the theology faculty at the University of Oslo. Tarald Rasmussen of Oslo gave a plenary, “The Uses of Comparative Methods in Reformation History,” which argued persuasively for historical approaches that are not limited to merely national interests, particularly defined in terms of contemporary national identity. The test case he focused on was that of early modern Scandanavia, and Rasmussen showed the benefits of more regional rather than nationalist perspectives.

One of the challenges, of course, is to find support for such research agendas when national or state agencies are the primary source of funding. But Rasmussen also made clear that there are analogous intellectual topographies to those we usually think of mapping, like national boundaries and geographical features. We run into ideological understandings of history that are anachronistic in a similar way, looking for the history of a particular idea or construction that is uniquely contemporary, and did not exist in the same way in the past.

A New Series for Students
Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 7:44 AM

I just received note of the first volume of a new series of student’s guides from Crossway, “The Christian Intellectual Tradition” series, described as “a series of reader-friendly guidebooks for Christian students.” The inaugural volume is, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide, by David Dockery and Timothy George.

Forthcoming volumes include offerings from Touchstone friends Hunter Baker (Political Thought) and Louis Markos (Literature), as well as David K. Naugle (Philosophy). I had a chance to offer an endorsement for Hunter’s book, and if it is representative of the rest of the series then these will serve as excellent introductory volumes to decisively Christian thought on a variety of pressing subjects. Be sure to check them out.

Chuck Colson’s Last Interview
Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 11:33 AM

Amid the many ongoing and worthwhile remembrances of Chuck Colson’s life and legacy, I thought I’d pass along this moving feature on Chuck’s transformative experience in prison, in his own words.

This is the last full interview that Chuck gave (September 2011) before his death, and in his own words we can see how he came to see prisoners as human beings, people who were just “like I am.” In prison Chuck met not mere criminals, but “human beings who had committed crimes.”

I found this video to be extremely moving, and to have provided some depth of insight into Chuck’s story that I hadn’t experienced before. Take the time to watch it and share it with your friends and family.

You can find out more about this feature, “Like I Am,” here.

The Audacity of Satan
Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 12:45 PM

Satan had the audacity to quote Scripture at Jesus during their encounter in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11):

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Like any good heretic, however, Satan didn’t bother to consider the quote in context. The very next line of Psalm 91 reads, “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; / you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” It’s a verse that hearkens back to the very beginning of Satan’s temptations, to the promise in the midst of the curse in Genesis 3:15: “He will crush your head, / and you will strike his heel.”

Maybe Satan was suffering from selective amnesia, or was just testing Jesus to see if he really was the Messiah. Whatever it was, Jesus answered Satan’s audacity in kind: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Our Sins, His Wounds
Thursday, April 5, 2012, 9:49 AM

Psalm 89:30-33 reads,

If his children forsake my law
and do not walk according to my rules,
if they violate my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
then I will punish their transgression with the rod
and their iniquity with stripes,
but I will not remove from him my steadfast love
or be false to my faithfulness.

Isaiah 53:4-5 reads,

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

The Psalms text leaves it indeterminate who the object of punishment for the iniquity of the children will be. We might assume it would be the children themselves.

But as the passage from Isaiah makes clear, whatever punishments for sin God places upon the sinners themselves (and as Augustine observes, sin is its own punishment), it is ultimately Jesus Christ, the servant who suffers, who bears the punishment, the stripes and the wounds by which we are healed.

By our sins he is wounded, and by his wounds we are healed.

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