Saturday, April 17, 2021

From Atheism and Marxism to Christian Faith

 Marvin Olasky's story of his own conversion is not typical, but it is a compelling read. Find it here.

Mr. Olasky has been for many years the Editor-in-Chief of World Magazine.

Hat Tip: The Aquila Report

Friday, April 16, 2021

Answering the anti-life argument of the anti-vaxxers on the use of aborted tissue

This issue is raising its head with regard to the coronavirus vaccine, but in reality it is a claim that impacts more or less all vaccines. Because of that, a response is important to all of us that find it anti-life to make arguments that would reinvigorate the measles and polio and a host of other nearly extinct diseases that once maimed and killed thousands.

In that vein, I am posting this video by the performer/physician currently known as ZDoggMD. He makes this case as well as anyone I have heard.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Books Read 2020


Books Read 2020


1.      Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, March 1917: Node III, Book 2. I enjoyed most of Solzhenitsyn's earlier work, but have not cared for his historical novels set during the Russian Revolution.

2.      Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit. This was enjoyable reading. Dickens shows s certain amount of disdain for America, though.

3.      Brian Holsinger, The Gifted School. Though not exactly on point with the recent college admissions scandals, the novel is poignant in light of them.

4.      Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy's view toward marriage was shockingly negative for his day.

5.      Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited. Based on what I had heard from others, I thought I would like Waugh. I will probably try another work, but I found this one only ok.

6.      Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend.

7.      Scott Turow, The Last Witness. A novel about facing one's mortality and diminishing capacities, primarilty through the lens of Sandy Stern. All of Turow's novels (legal thrillers) are worth reading.

8.      Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Mostly concerns the misery of debtors prison.

9.      Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge. Dickens places this story in the historical backdrop of riots that occurred in London around 1780. This may be the most unique of his novels.

10.  Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens died before finishing this novel, which means we don't know how it would have ended, though there have been no shortage of guesses.

11.  Alan Jacobs, The Year of our Lord 1943. Centers around the work of several Christian writers from the era that focused on education as the mechanism for redeeming society. I found the selection of subjects for the book eccentric.

12.  Thomas C. Oden, A Change of Heart. Oden's story is arguably the most remarkable biography -- certainly of a theologian -- of the last century. He was a remarkable man who accomplished an unfathomable amount of work.

13.  Michael Horton, Justification: Volume 1. This may be Horton's best academic work. It covers the history of the doctrine from the patristic era up to the Reformation.

14.  Nathaniel Philbrick, Bunker Hill. Philbrick tells the story well.

15.  Michael Horton, Justification: Volume 2. The second volume addresses contemporary debates. It is well worth the read, though I enjoyed volume 1 more.

16.  Robert L. Guyer, How to Get and Keep your First Lobbying Job. Good for someone starting out. 

17.  Matthew Barrett, None Greater: the Undomesticated Attributes of God. Highly recommended.

18.  Robert L. Guyer, Guide to State Legislative Lobbying

19.  Steven D. Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City. An excellent comparison of current debates and those that occurred in the time of the late Roman Empire.

20.  D.G. Hart, That Old-Time Religion in Modern America. Everything that Hart has written is worth reading.

21.  Elaine Pagels, Why Religion? A Personal Story. I disagree with Pagels on most things, but enjoyed reading this because she is thoughtful and creative.

22.  David McCullough, The Pioneers. This is a fantastic work, with McCullough chronicling the founding of a town along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.

23.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Between Two Millstones. 

24.  F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

25.  Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity

26.  Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society

27.  Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

28.  Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why we Love the Church

29.  H.W. Brands, Heirs of the Founders

30.  Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind

31.  Cornelius Van Til, Christianity and Idealism

32.  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. My wife and I have spent many hours discussing Kuhn's use of paradigms and how it applies to various areas of knowledge, including history of religion. She wrote her undergraduate thesis largely around the application of Kuhn to understanding the Protestant Reformation.

33.  Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)

34.  Alvin Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief

35.  Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines

36.  Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 3: The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300)

37.  Robert W. Merry, President McKinley: Architect of the American Century. I learned a lot about McKinley. This is well written.

38.  Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300=1700)

39.  John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One. I frequently disagree with Walton, but he is an engaging writer.

40.  W. Robert Godfrey, Saving the Reformation: the Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

41.  Tremper Longman and John H. Walton, The Lost World of the Flood

42.  Richard A. Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought

43.  Ross Douthat, The Decadent Society

44.  James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, Science and the Good: the Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality

45.  J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics. Fesko defends classical apologetics and attacks Van Til, among others.

46.  John V. Fesko, Word, Water and Spirit: a Reformed Perspective on Baptism

47.  Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger, Vol. 1

48.  Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: a Biographical Memoir. Those interested in Machen might look to Darrly Hart's work instead.

49.  J.I. Packer, Engaging the Written Word of God. Most of the essays in this volume are good.

50.  Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. I always like reading her. I disagree on Johnson about nearly everything, but there are aspects of that era that are better than our own.

51.  George F. Will, The Conservative Sensibility. Will's book argues for a variety of conservatism among many (none of which, by the way, resemble whatever one wants to call Trumpism). The most interesting chapters was the one on religion. Notably, I agreed with almost everything Will had to say about the role of religion (or lack thereof) in America's founding, though I of course disagreed with his atheism. Will advocates a version of natural rights that goes along with atheism, even as he acknowledges that the record on whether it can actually work in the real world is not favorable to date. He is fascinating to read on this subject.

52.  Michael F. Bird and Scott Harrower, eds., Trinity without Hierarchy. Almost all of the essays are really good, though the one by Leithat seems weak and out of place.

53.  Bob Woodward, Rage

54.  Richrd B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption. All of the books from here to the end I have read while preparing for an ordination exam in theology. I hope I pass.

55.  John Murray, Collected Writings: Volume two – Select Lectures in Systematic Theology

56.  Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of Christianity & My Credo

57.  Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost

58.  James E. Dolezal, All that Is in God

59.  John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

60.  Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology

61.  Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 3, Christology

62.  J. Gresham Machen, Things Unseen

63.  Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 2, Anthropology

Friday, August 28, 2020

In the World, but Not of the World

I thought about headlining my post, "It's the Uncertainty, Stupid," but in the present environment I worried that such might be considered uncharitable, even though I am only using the final word rhetorically. Those old enough to remember old political slogans will realize my play on one if they choose to do so.

Nonetheless, this lament continues my writing on the way that the church, at least as I witness its pronouncements by online representatives, focuses on the wrong things. I see lots of attention being given to whether or not to wear masks (mostly decided one way or the other based on poor reasoning), social distancing, and when and how to re-open services.

It is hard to find much attention being given to various uncertainties general to life but magnified during this crisis such as illness, the loss of loved ones, isolation from friends, fear of economic privation due to job loss, and hopelessness about the future -- and where is a sovereign God in all of this.

I am not saying that the first set of subjects are unimportant -- quite the contrary -- but those are subjects driven mostly by forces outside the church -- by the world. The second set of subjects are priorities of Scripture, which is full of texts to be expounded and applied. Each furnishes the opportunity to provide contextualized hope as it is found only in the Gospel. In so doing, the church would be providing a unique perspective, rather than one parroted with Bible verses.

So, why are so many Christian leaders obsessed with masks and distancing while virtually ignoring death, sickness, and hopelessness? The provocative answer is that the present crisis has opened the curtain to show an unseemly worldliness that dominates the church. The crisis sheds light on a great need for repentance and reform among God's people.

The term "worldliness" is biblical, yet in cultural terms hopelessly old fashioned. Many of us will associate the word with a past age of complaints about card playing and dancing and liquor. Be that as it may, this present worldliness is far more deep seated yet easily ignored and therefore pernicious. Our worldliness means that churches and Christians that claim allegiance to biblical authority set priorities based on agendas from outside of Scripture based on social and political concerns tangential to the biblical witness, though we have the capacity to find creative ways to pretend that they are biblical. Rather than recognizing that Scripture should drive our concerns, we instead use it to rubber stamp whatever social and political views we happen to hold.

The result is a failure to minister to the great needs of the day to which Scripture speaks -- needs related to the discipleship of our church members and to the evangelization of our communities and that recognize that by His death Christ put death to death. While I have focused on the COVID crisis, similar laments could be stated regarding the present dilemma regarding racial issues, about which many Christians have much to say about "cultural Marxism" ind "critical race theory," subjects about which frankly they don't seem to know much beyond sloganeering, and relatively little to say about the imago dei in man, which could form the basis for deep Christian reflection for how to move forward. The present crises have provided an opportunity for the church to bring the Gospel to bear on deep human concerns. To date, the church has largely failed in that endeavor. We need to repent.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"As a Dying Man to Dying Men"

Some readers will be old enough to remember when it was said that a community or national crisis would bring people back to church. Eventually, levels of attendance would revert to the mean, but at least for a while those who attended only sporadically if at all attend church looking for answers to address their deepest fears.

Of course, that could not happen during the present pandemic because churches, along with other entities that hold mass gatherings, either have been required to close their doors or restrict attendance. However, the financial crisis of a decade ago also did not result in an upswing in church attendance, and it may be that old maxims no longer hold true. If that is the case, one might wonder why. It would seem that most of those who do not already attend church in the United States no longer think of the church as a place to find answers to life's deepest problems. If that is the case, it might be said that the present crisis has served to verify that they are right.

Rightly understood, a pandemic might seem like just the sort of crisis into which the church could speak with comfort, authority, and deep value. It has been said that the purpose of a minister -- and of a church -- is to prepare people to die, but accepting that as true, one must also recognize that the subject is one that most Americans would just as soon avoid. In fact, churches on the vanguard of what passes for relevance in our day are more interested in offering advice for improving life than they are in addressing the more ultimate concerns of sin and death.

The spread of a disease without a known cure but with unpredictable morbidity and vast levels of mortality has forced people to think about that which during normal times they prefer to ignore. Add to illness and death the other disruptions created by the present crisis -- social isolation, financial uncertainty, and so on -- and one sees that it is no wonder that many are filled with fear. Things that once seemed stable and predictable are now wobbly.

Thus, people have been brought to the place where the church could help, if only it would.

I have not surveyed churches on how they have responded, but what I have witnessed online -- to the extent that provides a window into the soul of American Christianity -- has not been encouraging. It is understandable that churches have lamented the loss of the ability to gather, but we have seen too little creative activity in terms of finding ways to minister to both Christians and non Christians in our communities. Thus, many church communities have experienced only subtraction -- the loss of gathered worship but without any effort at offering temporary ways to connect people and needs during this time.

Even worse, many churches have ignored the crisis as an opportunity to show love toward the fearful and hurting and have addressed the crisis primarily in the sorts of political categories that are tangential to Christian faith. While conclusions regarding wearing masks at worship are matters where Christians may differ, it is rather disheartening to see moral reasoning that devolves into navel gazing fixated on personal autonomy and unconcerned with either the Great Commission or the Great Commandment -- or even the Good Samaritan. Now, I see that some ministers are desperately pleading for people to return, when even church members might find themselves conflicted about rejoining a congregation where the leadership has demonstrated that they do not care for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable -- the elderly, the cancer patient, the diabetic, or the overweight. It is correct that every believer has the obligation of church attendance, but it is sad to see the obstacle of having realized that the local congregation doesn't care enough to help one feel safe, particularly given the slight nature of the needed sacrifice in the big scheme of things.

The church had an opportunity to urge upon congregants to ignore the predictable political categories and find ways to care for people. In many ways, the church has failed. May God drive us to repentance, that we might speak to our communities, in the words of Baxter, "as a dying man to dying men.

Friday, August 14, 2020

What is conservatism? What is science?

This is a different sort of post than the ones that I generally compose for this site. Typically, I avoid political topics, or topics that may be regarded as political. This is not because I am uninterested in politics -- the job that pays my bills requires that I be interested -- but it is because for the church, both those segments of it that lean to the right and that lean to the left, I regard politics as a temptation drawing their attention away from matters of first importance about the inbreaking of a kingdom not of this world to secondary matters about which they frequently opine without any real knowledge, expertise, or ability to influence.

Nonetheless, I see many religious leaders, in the name of their religious convictions, promoting what they refer to as a sort of political conservatism. I am going to take the risk here of adding to my criticism of pulpit politics an accompanying criticism that what many call conservatism is not particularly conservative.

Of course, there are many streams of conservatism that have flowed through the course of history. I have waded in varieties of those streams over the course of my life before ultimately landing in that which seems to have the best pedigree, which is the understanding that conservatism, as Russell Kirk put it, is not an ideology so much as it is a sentiment, a sentiment that there are things about the past that are worth preserving, that human nature is not ultimately malleable, and that improvement in some area is likely to have mal effects elsewhere. This sort of conservatism differs from progressivism, various forms of liberalism, and conservative libertarianism in various ways. For one thing, those views make their beginning point their ideologies and tend toward various forms of utopianism that typically end in disappointment, sometimes tragically. Conservatism, rightly understood, does not begin with ideology, but with the real world. Conservatism is not utopian because it views human nature as incapable of attaining it in this world (or ever, for those who do not believe in an after life). Conservatism is not opposed to change, but tends toward skepticism and concerns about unintended consequences.

This sort of conservatism stands in sharp contrast to family values (a hopelessly relativistic term) conservatives or social conservatives, who tend toward utopianism, even positing spiritual revival, based on using political power to achieve desired results. It is odd to see self-described conservatives advocating centralized power in ends justifying means arguments.

How does this relate to the other part of my title: science? Like many of the ministers who feel free to comment on and advocate regarding scientific matters, I have no expertise in this field. Nonetheless, I make some effort at reading widely and make my living working around people with strong scientific interests. The conservative British historian Paul Johnson began his history of the 20th century, Modern Times, with an account of Albert Einstein's statements surrounding findings he expected regarding red light shift during a solar eclipse. In advance of an eclipse, Einstein made the extraordinary statement that if the red light shift phenomenon was not observed that his theory of general relativity "would have to be abandoned." That, to his credit, was falsifiability on steroids.

What if those with ideological commitments nowadays would put themselves on the line in the same way? You may recall that back in early and mid July, after states had begun the effort at reopening their economies, that the number of COVID infections had begun to increase, but the number of deaths had remained low. I had multiple conversations about this with skeptical friends. I am no Einstein, but I hope I have learned from history. I told many people the following: Death is lagging indicator. It takes a couple of weeks after changes to see the impact on cases. Additional time is needed before seeing the impact on hospitalization and ICU usage. After that, we start to see an uptick in deaths. I told many people that we would see an increase in deaths (raw number, not rate because many of those infected were younger and healthier) by the first of August. If that did not happen, my concerns could be dismissed.

How I wish I were wrong, but I was not! But I haven't found that my conversation partners have been in any rush to acknowledge that they needed to change their minds about how to respond.

Reasonable people do not use racial terms to refer to this as a Chinese infection, but there may be some merit in thinking of the American response as a form of Chinese water torture. Instead of acting decisively in the face of unusual but real circumstances, Americans have responded based on ideology and political predilection. The result has been the ongoing, insanity inducing drip of social and economic tragedy.

In the face of this, many well meaning people have declared beliefs and made statements about this pandemic without having any knowledge or expertise in pandemics, infectious disease, or even economics. Ok, we know what opinions are like. However, in an age where social media platforms give anyone with sufficient hubris the delusion of expertise, how about putting yourself on the line. Make a clear prediction without wiggle room. If you are wrong, own it.

I realize such thoughts are subversive of modernity. So be it, says this conservative.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Because the 9th Commandment is Actually in the Bible....

Lest I be accused of Biblicism, I will note it is also in reformed confessions of faith! Nonetheless, I am thankful to see a group of Orthodox Presbyterian Church officers taking a stand that ministers who engage in public debate have a duty to do so honestly and charitably. I wrote about this subject recently more broadly. Those who fail to disagree in that way are conducting themselves in a manner that violates their ordination vows.

For those who perhaps do not keep up with the debates of current American reformed and evangelical Christianity, this dust up involves a book recently published by Aimee Byrd, a member of an OPC church and until recently a participant in a podcast of some prominence in the reformed world. Her book addresses issues of discipleship of women in conservative and confessional churches. In so doing, it expresses disagreement with some aspects of what is known as complementarianism, which is a rather broad term related to the way women and men relate to one another. I say broad because complementarianism is claimed by a variety of people who find themselves occupying the area between egalitarianism on the left and patriarchy on the right. Ms. Byrd would not for herself use the term "complementarian," but she is accused of being a "thin complementarian" and she is criticized by those who dislike that she interacts, sometimes favorably, with egalitarians.

I will now remove myself from the weeds.

I have not read Ms. Byrd's book, so any knowledge I have is second hand. As such, it is not my place either to defend or disagree with it, at least not in any detail. My wife has read the book and, in fact, wrote 4,000(!) words of notes that provided a basis for discussion of the book among leaders of a FB group that she participates with. My wife found aspects of the book helpful and disagreed with others. She along with others engaged in debate that I would consider healthy.

That is a reminder that discussions on controversial subjects can be vigorous and ought to be healthy and charitable. What has been shocking has been the reaction of some ministers and officers of churches that have been dishonest, vicious, and sometimes misogynist. One might expect certain types of language from profane unbelievers, but not from officers of the church. Some of this has taken place in online groups deemed to be "private." I have wondered what it would be like to have to sit under the ministry of a pastor that conducts himself in this way when he erroneously supposes himself to be in secret.

I am not an officer of the OPC, so I cannot sign this letter, but I would urge those who are eligible to do so. Those who do so are not expressing wholesale agreement with Ms. Byrd's book, but they are opposing conduct by ministers that is not becoming of a follower of Christ. Does that even require a "courageous" stand? One would hope not. Nonetheless, it is perhaps of interest that some ministers have expressed outrage at Ms. Byrd's employment of "feminist imagery" in the form of yellow wallpaper on the book's cover. If one will forgive me, I am more concerned about ministers displaying a yellow streak. If you can't take a stand on this, what are you going to do in the face of real persecution?