Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Inundated Calvinist will be back shortly

I'm taking a short break to attend, participate, and speak at the North Carolinians for Home Education conference in Winston-Salem, followed by some well-deserved family time. Please check back for reports on all of the above, coming soon ...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"evangelical" with a little "e"

The National Association of Evangelicals has put together a twenty-page document called An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. This was released last week with predictable headlines: the Associated Press said "Evangelicals say faith is now too political" and led with the following:
Conservative Christian leaders who believe the word "evangelical" has lost its religious meaning plan to release a starkly self-critical document saying the movement has become too political and has diminished the Gospel through its approach to the culture wars.

The statement, called "An Evangelical Manifesto," condemns Christians on the right and left for "using faith" to express political views without regard to the truth of the Bible, according to a draft of the document obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

"That way faith loses its independence, Christians become `useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology," according to the draft.

I'm reminded of the American prophets Simon and Garfunkel who wrote, "Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest, doo-doo-doo ..." The full document says many things critical of both the evangelical right and the evangelical left -- notably, the paragraphs embracing the "useful idiot" statement --

The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right in recent decades, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes "the regime at prayer", Christians become "useful idiots" for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form. Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left.

So the Manifesto is not a guided missile aimed at the Religious Right. Not entirely.

There is a great deal of truth in the document, and some things are stated very plainly. I appreciate the sensitivity to the perceptions of our brethren outside the American church, and the call to biblical orthodoxy is on target. There are rebukes to pandering and manipulative models of church growth, as well as narrowmindedness that leads to self-righteousness and undermines the call to reach out in love to a fallen world. All true and good to point out.

There are many statements that don't work biblically, though. In fact, one of the first problems in the document is a very light veneer of Scripture. It's not meant to be a Westminster Confession of Faith, rev. 1, but they could have taken it as an example of buttressing each assertion with relevant texts. It would have helped avoid some of the more obvious faults.

Take the statement on page 5, that Jesus "exposed and reversed the course of human sin and violence". The only way that could be true is to say that Jesus reverses the course of individual believers, previously on a downgrade to hell; addressing humanity as a whole, no, the sin and violence continue as before.

On page 8, it says "The Evangelical message, 'good news' by definition, is overwhelmingly positive, and always positive before it is negative." But Jesus' message was fundamentally, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." That's a strong negative at the very start -- REPENT, meaning don't continue doing what you have been. I think they are trying to address the perception (reality) of legalism and judgmental attitudes, but I don't think the Gospel is best described as "a colossal Yes to life and human aspirations". Human aspirations are not the point here. Likewise, the final statement rings out with a commitment to unity for "a greater human flourishing" -- whatever in the world that is supposed to mean. Genesis 1:27-28 doesn't seem to be in view.

To me, it rings out "This statement was approved by a very diverse committee, and like a painter who worked himself into a corner, we couldn't quite figure out how to end."

The most glaring problem is the committee's attempt to separate "Evangelicalism" -- they proudly capitalize the term -- from fundamentalism. While rejecting liberalism in strong terms, they say that "Fundamentalism has become an overlay on the Christian faith and developed into an essentially modern reaction to the modern world. As a reaction to the modern world, it tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub-Christian" (page 9).

That's an awful load to put on a large number of fellow Christians. Well, maybe sub-Christians, if that's what they think. I find it hard to imagine why Ergun Caner, the head of Liberty Baptist Seminary, one of the most fundamentalist of schools, would be a charter signer. Likewise, I'm perplexed to see Daniel Akins of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention's conservative resurgence, listed there.

They correctly identify a problem area among fundamentalists -- that in the zeal to be biblically right, it is easy to become judgmental, forgetting to love your neighbor as yourselves, not to mention loving your enemies. That's fair enough, there are pitfalls and lurking temptations in any human movement.

But the overall position that Christian fundamentalism is now and has always been "thoroughly world-denying and politically disengaged from its outset" (p. 15) is simply false.

On page 13 they call for "an expansion of our concern beyond single issue politics, such as abortion and marriage" and then, "a more complete understanding of discipleship that applies faith with integrity to every calling and sphere of life ... and that thinks wider than politics in contributing to the arts, the sciences, the media, and the creation of culture in all its variety" (p. 14). Yet I see that Jerry Falwell's ministries at Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, for an example, not to mention the leadership and staff of Regents University and everyone's favorite fundamentalist bete noire, Bob Jones University, have invested decades building ministries to the poor and the poorly educated, programs for unwed mothers and recovering addicts, and training young men and women to take a self-consciously Christian worldview into the fields of science, journalism, law, the military, and the arts.

(By the way, I'm not ignoring the hauty sniff and dismissal of creationists, claiming their "anti-intellectualism" is sinful (p. 12). I'd suggest to the authors their arguments would have more cogency if they stop battering their fundamentalist straw man and actually consider that scientists -- not just theologians and passionate amateurs -- are fully engaged in this debate. Ditto the matter of anthropogenic global warming, hinted at but not explicitly named here. After all, the errors of churchmen who ignore the work of Christian scientists did not end with Galileo; the authors need to talk with more of them.)

I have not had time to read all the commentary washing about right now. My own reading of the document, though, tells me that I will be content to be evangelical with a small "e", just as I count myself fundamentalist with a small "f". This Manifesto is a patchwork of truth and trendiness that mainly seeks to innoculate the term "evangelical" from the toxic label "fundamentalist", triangulating between an obviously wide range of viewpoints and traditions on the committee.

The only thing that is consistently clear is that I'm not going to capitalize the "E" any more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Solution to Illegal Immigration

A friend forwarded a comment that when there was an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- mad cow disease -- the federal government was able to locate a cow born in Canada three years previous, track her to her stall in Washington state, and then track each one of her calves to their new homes.

On the other hand, we can't locate 11 million humans living in our country illegally.

"Maybe we should give each of them a cow," she concludes.

Geometric Illustrations of the Order of Salvation

Our men's Bible study this morning was in Romans 5:1-11, and an illustration occurred to me from verses 1-2:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

I preached on Romans 4:1-16 a couple of weeks ago and spoke at some length about the doctrine of justification -- it is an instantaneous event, a single point in eternity when God pronounces and accepts the individual sinner as righteous by the merit of Christ's obedience and redemption.

Faith is a continuing exercise of the believer toward God, beginning at the point of salvation and lasting for eternity.

Grace, however, extends from eternity past to eternity future.

So in geometrical terms, justification is a single point. Faith is a ray that extends from the point of justification to "positive infinity". Grace is a line, infinite in both directions.

And I suppose that, from the world's point of view, life is a line segment with a start point and an end point. That's true as far as physical life, at least prior to Christ's return, but the unbeliever still has an unexpected eternity to grapple with.

Blackberry Winter

I heard our cold snap here is referred to as "blackberry winter". I had only heard the term as the title of a piece of neo-classical music, several years ago, and never thought about looking it up until Jon Ham mentioned it on Right Angles the other day. A related term is "dogwood winter", another one I'd never heard.

Is anyone claiming this cool weather is related to global warming yet?

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Washington Politicians Willingly Bestow President Upon Harvard.

Special to The New York Times.

WASHINGTON, June 3. – The common, coarse politician here is wild with joy and staid Senators are chuckling at the horror expressed in Harvard circles at President Roosevelt’s offer to take charge of that institution. Nay, more; at Lansing President Roosevelt said, “In a year and eleven months I expect to be a member of the (Harvard) organization,” and when he speaks like that and shuts his jaws, snap, the politicians know what it means. Moreover, they submit. But Dr. Henry Pickering Walcott, senior member of the Harvard Corporation, rushed into print with evident alarm to say: “There is no possibility of his ever becoming President of the university. President Roosevelt is not what you would call an academic man.”

It was when this came out that the politicians cried, “It is our turn now.” They have long complained that the President brought into Washington a lot of long haired, spectacled doctors of philosophy and ex-football captains – mostly from Harvard – to shoulder them out of fat jobs. There is Attorney General Bonaparte in the Cabinet, Assistant Postmaster General Hitchcock; there are Harvard members of the Tennis Cabinet and Judges and District Attorneys, to say nothing of revenue and custom collectors.

“If Roosevelt has made up his mind to be President of Harvard,” the politicians say, “he will be. Did we want him for our President? Well, he is, ain’t he? That’s the answer.”

If the President should be satisfied to merely take a chair on the Harvard Faculty, leaving Dr. Eliot in peace, the politicians tell the Harvard men with grins that the Roosevelt chair will cover so many fields that other professors of the “academic” type will be killed by competition. With the Roosevelt works for texts, the elective courses will cover history, economics, sociology, politics, religion, anthropology, zoology, biology, literature (special Irish saga course), government, &c. The President has treated all these topics with authority.

“We are glad it’s Harvard,” say the politicians.

(The New York Times, June 4, 1907)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Exercise the Franchise

We were voters number 381 and 382 at our precinct in Smithfield, about 11:15 this morning. I don't have the current registration numbers, but this is about 8% of the registered totals in 2006 -- so not a tremendous turn out so far today.

You Can't Keep Great Books Down

Jane Shaw reports on the conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses, which promotes the teaching of the classics of Western literature and thought. A story by Professor Marcia Marzac from the University of St. Francis illustrates the power of teaching these challenging works at length:
Initially, this class introduced “classic Western thought” through a series of excerpts from an anthology. Three weeks on Greek culture, for example, included selections from Homer, Aeschylus, Herodotus, and at least four others.

But students hated the course. Evaluations were “abysmal,” said Marzec; the class was “boring,” “confusing,” “disconnected,” and “too hard.”

So they redesigned it. They stopped reading excerpts and chose 10 complete texts, ranging in time from the Sumerian Myth of
Gilgamesh to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.

They organized the works around the theme of the “good life.” Instead of beginning the course with a classic, however, they asked the students to write informal essays on how they define happiness, after reading a short modern essay on the topic. Class discussion introduced the issues that would dominate the course — “happiness, joy, free will, evil, and suffering,” as Marzec summarized them.

The class, said Marzec, became a “phenomenal success.” Complaints dried up. The students read as much or more as previously, but it was no longer too much or too hard. Their discussions related one work to another. The most popular book was the relatively obscure
Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. “I was on the wheel of fortune in my own life until we read Boethius and Chaucer,” wrote one student in an evaluation.

In other words, this redesigned course, relying on complete works, not snippets, and organized around a theme that connects with the interests of today’s teen-agers, became a hit.

This demonstrates that "difficult" books by the proverbial "dead white males" can be made relevant to modern students without dissolving into trendy nonsense and anachronistic reinterpretation. That's one of the things that makes them classic -- they grapple with the universal experience of the souls of men, and they speak to us because circumstances change but humanity doesn't.

By the way, the great books program at Southeastern College at Wake Forest is a local example of this sort of thing.

Monday, May 05, 2008

We are unable to take your call ...

My family and I did a stint of phone bank work for a candidate friend of ours (who shall remain nameless) and found an interesting statistic. Of the numbers we called -- nearly 400 registered voters -- almost 40% had their answering machines pick up. This was independent of time of day -- mid-morning, evenings, late afternoon.

Frankly, I can't say I blame them. With a close gubernatorial race in both parties and the ongoing saga with the Democratic presidential campaign, I don't doubt if some folks are tired of picking up the phone. It did make our job a little faster, I'll admit.

N.C. Homeschool News 5/4/08


ALAMANCE -- School board candidate calls for public schools to use homeschool curriculum. At least, that's what I think she said -- read the comments of Rebecca Stumpfig in the article. (Burlington Times-News, 5/3/08)

McDOWELL -- Family begins homeschooling after 12-year-old son is paddled at school. (Asheville Citizen-Times, 5/1/08)


ROWAN -- The Cabarras-Rowan Homeschool Stallions defeat in-state rival Raleigh Warriors in Marietta, GA, to win a berth in the Homeschool World Series (Salisbury Post, 5/1/08)

UPDATE: The Post didn't include the Raleigh mascot - thanks, Cindy Vedder! (See her reports in the comments below)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Who I'm Supporting

Some of my friends have asked who I'm supporting in the upcoming primary elections. Based on the ballot locally, here's my slate:

President: John McCain - I've never been an enthusiastic supporter, but I follow William F. Buckley's rule -- vote for the rightwardmost viable candidate. Yes, I know Paul is still out there, but he's not going anywhere. McCain is the man this year. Obama and Clinton are not.

Senate: Elizabeth Dole

Governor: Fred Smith - I have known him for years and he has always been interested and attentive to the concerns of homeschoolers in his district. I've seen him watching out for our interests and freedom in committee meetings, planning sessions, and other places that policies and politics are on the table. He's proven his conservative credentials as a county commissioner and as a state legislator, and I'm supporting him for governor this Tuesday.

Lt. Governor: Robert Pittenger - I like Jim Snyder, and if Pittenger wasn't in the race I'd go for him. However, Pittenger, who has one of the most contrary voting records in the state Senate (i.e. he opposes more of the actions of that Democratic body than nearly anyone else), has a solid record - and possibly a bid at governor some day.

State Senate: David Rouzer - A former Helms aide with a solid background in agricultural issues. I've met with him one-on-one and while he's something of a new face locally I think he's got a good future ahead of him. Local Republican leadership is strongly behind him, too.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Eric H. Smith - When have you heard a candidate for head of public schools say that parents, not educational professionals, should have the last word on how their children are taught? Not coincidentally, Eric was homeschooled for part of his own education. He gets it.

Briefly, local and judicial races:

County Commission: Ray Woodall

Court of Appeals: Dean Poirer

Court of Appeals; John Tyson

District Court: Gary Ragland

District Court: Paul Holcombe