More Like Athens or Rome?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 9:55 AM

I found this WaPo piece intriguing for a number of reasons, "Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers." It outlines the attempts of some of those who, for various reasons, were looking for ways to make their academic philosophical training relevant and practical. They found their answer in "philosophical counseling." Read the piece for an introduction to this line of work.

Here I want to highlight what one of these "philosopreneurs" says about the applicability of philosophy today:

Colleges and universities responding to the demand for majors that students can bring to the bank have cut philosophy departments and classes, decreasing the number of teaching jobs. The last thing a parent wants to hear in this economy is that their college student hopes to makes a career of pondering life’s cosmic questions.

As Marinoff puts it, “What are the first words a philosophy graduate utters? ‘Would you like fries with that, sir?’

“See, the fries joke, that’s exactly what we are trying to change,” Marinoff said. “The Greeks had ancient philosophers at every street corner. Today, our society is more like Rome with our circus culture. It’s all very entertaining. But we have to change the public perception of a philosopher as some useless academic relic.”

It strikes me that theology faces the same challenge as philosophy in this regard. I've posted some further thoughts on the implications for higher ed over at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, but here I want to ask: Are we more like Athens or Rome? Is Marinoff right to say the latter? And what does that mean for philosophy and theology today?

On my read of Peter Leithart's Defending Constantine, he would probably agree that we are like Rome with our infatuation with blood, bread, and circuses. And on what that means for Christian cultural engagement and apologetics, J. Daryl Charles has a good bit to say in his Retrieving the Natural Law.



To Serve Man and Enjoy Him Forever
Friday, August 19, 2011, 12:56 PM

No doubt many of you have seen the story circulating about a NASA report, "Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis," warning that unless we humans take better care of our planet, particularly by addressing the problem of climate change, extraterrestrials "could attack and kill us, enslave us, or potentially even eat us."

I think the NASA researchers have been watching the Twilight Zone a bit too regularly, particularly the famous episode, "To Serve Man." Here's the full episode:

But you can also skip ahead to the kicker.

Maybe this is a report from the Onion that got picked up accidentally. I checked and it's not April 1, anyway, but I can't see how such a report would push public opinion in favor of increasing funding for a struggling government agency.

Worshiping the goddess of environmentalism does precisely what Rod Serling warns, devolving human beings from "dust to dessert" and from steward of the planet to "an ingredient in someone's soup."

Ronald Reagan said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" But maybe we should fear instead the word, "I'm from another planet, and I'm here to help."

It's a cookbook!



Evangelical Engagement of the Body
Monday, August 15, 2011, 10:36 AM

 Evangelical Engagement of the Body

My friend Matthew Anderson has a noteworthy new book out, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith.

I'm looking forward to diving into the book for a number of reasons. Matt is a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, an institution whose faculty, staff, students, and alumni continue to impress me the more I become familiar with them.

One of the things that Matt does that is important in this book is dialogue extensively with Roman Catholic thinking, especially that of John Paul II. Deep and principled engagement with Roman Catholic thought on these kinds of questions can be nothing but positive and challenging for evangelicals, especially if it forces evangelicals to mine their own rich traditions for characteristic and normative approaches to many social and ethical questions.

It seems to me there have been two basic trends characterizing evangelical approaches to the body in particular and material realities in general.

The first is to derogate the body and bodily matters as unimportant, especially as they relate to more important spiritual realities. The second is to place too much emphasis on materiality. If fundamentalism and "other worldly" impulses result in the former, the physicalism/materialism of other evangelicals (both philosophically, hermeneutically, and politically) results in the latter.

I expect Matt's book to be a corrective to both errors and to point constructively toward a rich and comprehensive evangelical anthropology, one that properly relates bodily matters to spiritual realities.

You can check out Matt's extensive essay along these lines at Christianity Today to see where he's going, and be sure to buy the book for the whole story.

Matt is also the founder of Mere Orthodoxy, a blog you should add to your RSS list if you haven't already.



‘Reduction’ and Abortion-Culture Newspeak
Monday, August 15, 2011, 7:41 AM

This is difficult reading: “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy.”

I had never heard of this, certainly not as an elective procedure.

The witness of conscience apparently can’t be suppressed. At least not totally. And not without a great deal of work and denial. 

Even some people who support abortion rights admit to feeling queasy about reduction to a singleton. “I completely respect and support a woman’s choice,” one commentator wrote on UrbanBaby.com, referring to a woman who said she reduced her pregnancy to protect her marriage and finances. One fetus was male, the other female, and the woman eliminated the male because she already had a son. “Something about that whole situation just seemed unethical to me,” the commentator continued. “I just couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I terminated my daughter’s perfectly healthy twin brother.”

My wife is a fraternal twin. I’m thankful to God to have her and a brother-in-law.

“They invent ways of doing evil,” indeed.



And the wall came tumbling down…
Thursday, August 11, 2011, 7:59 AM

Journalist and Lutheran theologian Uwe Siemon-Netto reflects on the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of construction of the Berlin Wall, "And the wall fell down flat." He relates the story of the Christian peace movement and its role in tearing down the spiritual walls that helped to hold up the Berlin Wall.

"It is now 50 years since I saw the Wall go up and 22 since it came down," he writes. "The Christian movement in eastern Germany seems to have collapsed. When Germany was reunited on 3 October 1990, most Protestant churches did not even ring their bells in gratitude, in contrast to Catholic churches, which did. Once again, eastern Germans are turning their backs on the Christian faith in droves. Next to the Czech Republic, the former GDR is the most secularized region in Europe, and Berlin is the most godless city."



Wallis and Mohler on the Church and Social Justice
Wednesday, August 3, 2011, 9:20 AM

Jim Wallis and Al Mohler are scheduled to debate the question, "Is Social Justice an Essential Part of the Mission of the Church?" The debate is sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is scheduled for Oct. 27, 2011 at 7pm.

We're up against that old faith/works problem again, but this time in the concrete context of American politics. I describe some of the necessary distinctions and definitions that need to be made in order to arrive at a good answer on the question of the church and social justice. It depends largely on what you mean by social justice and what you mean by church.



The Man and the Mongoose
Monday, July 25, 2011, 8:16 PM

Could the mongoose be a type of Christ? The question occurred to me after concluding Rudyard Kipling's short story, "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," with my son tonight. There are a great number of connections, at least in this story.

The mongoose is well-known as a snake killer, and the title character in Kipling's tale lives up to such a billing. But it isn't just that Rikki-tikki and Nag fight in the state of nature, "red in tooth and claw," as Tennyson describes it elsewhere.

 The Man and the Mongoose

It's that Rikki-tikki fights to protect the family and the integrity of the garden. And against whom does he fight? Nag, the cobra, the embodiment of Death.

"Who is Nag?" said he. "I am Nag. The great God Brahm put his mark upon all our people, when the first cobra spread his hood to keep the sun off Brahm as he slept. Look, and be afraid!"

But, O, Nag be not proud! Not only does Rikki-tikki defeat Nag, but he defeats his dangerous widow as well, and puts an end to their entire brood. In the climactic battle Rikki-tikki is dragged underground, and lamented for dead by his friend Darzee, the bird.

Darzee sings Rikki-tikki's praises: "Evil that plagued us is slain, / Death in the garden lies dead."

But this isn't the end of Rikki-tikki. Up from the grave he arose, so to speak, having defeated Nagaina (the cobra widow) and uttering gravely: "It is all over," or "It is finished," if you will.

Rikki-tikki is indeed a savior, many times over, as testified by the mother. "He saved our lives and Teddy's life," she said to her husband. "Just think, he saved all our lives."

That's not to say that Kipling is himself a Christian, or that this is a Christian story, or anything like that. John Derbyshire has said that Kipling's religion was "extremely peculiar," and this paper, "The Religion of Rudyard Kipling," explores some of that peculiarity.

But even pagan literature, or non-Christian literature formed in the twilight of western Christendom, is informed by what Lewis called "True Myth." Or as Husain puts it, Kipling is "profoundly influenced by Christianity and often uses Christian symbols, but he is not a Christian."

So yes, in that sense, in Kipling's story, Rikki-tikki is a type of Christ. Rikki-tikki points us toward the ultimate savior. The Mongoose points us toward the Man.



‘Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World’
Monday, June 27, 2011, 11:01 AM

From the Christian Post: "First Global Code of Conduct on Evangelism to Go Online."

Anugrah Kumar writes, 'It took five years of cooperation between the WEA, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue, and the World Council of Churches to reach an agreement on the ethics of Christian mission and evangelism and “the need for every Christian, every church and every Christian organization to live and preach the gospel in accordance with the life and teachings of Jesus,” WEA said.'

This is the first I've heard of this project and I'll be interested in seeing the results tomorrow.



Detroit’s Blooming (and Vulnerable) Urban Gardens
Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 11:45 AM

In the commentary this week over at the Acton Institute, I examine the move toward urban agriculture in the city of Detroit. I argue that the trend represents a small but significant area of hopefulness in a city in desperate need of economic, cultural, political, and spiritual transformation. In a distant allusion to Edmund Burke, I call these urban gardens "little plots of liberty."

2009 Capuchin community garden Detroit 4026498086 540x405 Detroits Blooming (and Vulnerable) Urban Gardens

One of the potential problems, though, is that the city government can stand in the way of such transformation. In an environment where everyone needs to "get theirs" and the culture of graft and corruption reigns supreme, the subsistence and rudimentary efforts of many urban farmers can easily be crushed.

I also note that it's worth checking out the piece in New Geography from some years back by Aaron M. Renn, which has some engaging narrative and illustrative photography.  "In most cities, municipal government can’t stop drug dealing and violence, but it can keep people with creative ideas out," says Renn. He adds that this typically hasn’t been true in Detroit. "In Detroit, if you want to do something, you just go do it. Maybe someone will eventually get around to shutting you down, or maybe not."

The latest development of this whole story, however, is that the regulators and bureaucrats are beginning to take notice, with predictably deleterious results.



‘Nowhere, Never, by No One.’
Thursday, May 12, 2011, 2:13 PM

At the CT site, S. Donald Fortson III examines “The Road to Gay Ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

He writes, “Church history is crystal clear: Homosexual practice has been affirmed nowhere, never, by no one in the history of Christianity.” Adoption of amdendment 10-A is therefore, by definition, anti-catholic.

Jim wrote, “This is not your grandmother’s church.” Fortson also shares, “When I was a young ministerial student studying at a mainline Presbyterian seminary I read Don Williams’s 1978 book, The Bond that Breaks: Will Homosexuality Split the Church? and I recall wondering if homosexual ordination would find acceptance among Presbyterians during my lifetime. Now, more than 30 years later, I have an answer to my question.”

Speaking of changes of a lifetime, here’s the message concerning Amendment 10-A from last year’s moderator of the General Assembly.

And it is worth recalling this moment from last year’s assembly:

Archpriest Siarhei Hardun from the Orthodox Church of Belarus:

“Christian morality is as old as Christianity itself. It doesn’t need to be invented now. Those attempts to invent new morality look for me like attempts to invent a new religion — a sort of modern paganism.

When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Spirit that inspired the Bible, if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspires the Holy Orthodox Church not to change anything doctrinal or moral standards? It is really the same Spirit or perhaps there are different spirits acting in different denominations and inspiring them to develop in different directions and create different theologies and different morals?

My desire is that all Christians should contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints, as St. Jude calls us to do (Jude 1:3). And my advice as an ecumenical advisory delegate is the following: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’” (Romans 12:2).


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