Archive for August, 2009

Dr. Richard Gamble (Hillsdale/ISI Gamble not RPTS/P&R Gamble) has an excellent review of The American Patriot’s Study Bible.   Check out God’s Country from the American Conservative. Gotta love the Gamble.

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I am for God and country, in that order.  As an Augustinian, however, I cannot help but find the relationship of God and country to contain more tension than comfort.  Dual citizenship demands conflicting loyalty.  The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men have different foundations, different agendas, and different destinations.  Sadly, this tension is not always appreciated.  Take, for instance, The American Patriot’s Study Bible.  Perverse.   This is what is wrong with the “religious right”.

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All this talk of how tradition “is not necessarily evil” but worth chucking whenever we feel our individual and generational autonomy challenged has me longing for congregations singing from a latin psalter.

At least we might not be quite as opposed to norms and forms.  What have we unleashed upon the world?

The question is, just where is my tongue in relationship to my cheek?

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Her body rests nearby.  My home, what would have been her home, is the closest one to her resting spot.  The ground in which she is buried is holy ground.  Sanctified, a stone sits; upon it is engraved her name, a date, a descriptive, a verse from St. John, a cross, a harp, and a rose.  Rocks from various regions of God’s country (the American West), shells from Lake Michigan and the Pacific, a statue of His mother, a figurine of Briar Rose, and a multitude of flowers watch over her grave.

A shrine, this is hallowed ground.  I touch the stone everyday.  “Hail Mary, full of grace. . .”

Her soul is as alive as her body is dead, as the stone is cold.  She dances, you know.  She dances with the Lord, she dances with His Mother, she dances with His angels, she dances with her grandfather and all those who came before her.  Her great grandmother even greets her every morning with sugar-free candy, a hug, and a Germanic “gella.”

I’ve seen my Cecilia Rose–in imagination and in prayer–many times.  She would be two years old this morning, had she lived in this world.  God had other plans for her.

What age is a dancing spirit in heaven?  I have no idea.  In my mind and in my soul, though, she appears as a 6 or 7 year old.

She’s delightfully beautiful.  Mischievous, to be sure.  She’s come up and tagged me on the back, laughed, and run away.  She’s hid behind the hem of God’s robes and smiled at me, confidently.  She’s glanced at me, faerie like, from behind and in between flowers blessedly left behind by a previous owner of our property.

I’ve also seen in her the intensity of my oldest son, Nathaniel; I’ve seen in her the warm smile and caring of my oldest daughter, Gretchen; I’ve seen in her the playful and mysterious look in the eyes of my daughter, Maria Grace; I’ve seen in her the open emotions in the running welcome of my son, Harry; I’ve seen in her the piercing joy in the giggle of my youngest son, John; and I’ve seen in her the unrelenting grace in the strength of my wife, Dedra.

Every vision, every touch, every thought of her is a gift beyond measure.  Every glimpse of her in the life of one of my living children and in my wife is an insight into what is eternally true.

And yet, despite all of this, and the confidence I have that she resides in her heavenly home and with her heavenly Father, the anguish continues, the intellect questions, and the faith wanders, sometimes near, sometimes far.

How does one cope with the death of a daughter?  How does one accept that God asks us to bring a soul into the world, only to take her before she can breathe her first breath, only to be strangled by the very thing that gave her life for nine months?

Dear God, why would you do this?  Dear God, why would you have my wife bring into this world the child she carried within her for nine months only to keep her for Yourself?  Dear God, you are taking care of my daughter, right?  Right?

Though I do not fully understand–nor pretend to–Your reasons, You promise to bring all things to right order, to right all wrongs, to heal all ills.  Dear God, I pray Cecilia Rose has not been left behind.  I trust You keep her safe, I trust You love her, I trust You let her dance, I trust You let her sit on the velour-panted legs of my grandmother.  (Grandmother, I trust you share your sugar-free candy with my little not-left-behind one.  Grandpa, I trust you walk with this blue-eyed one, hand in hand, named after your sister, as I assume you know, who also left this world at an age too young.  By the way, I miss you two as well.)

Yes, the doubts still linger, the pain still stabs. . . . but each comes and goes less frequently than before.  When they come, they come just as strong as they’ve always come; they hurt as much as they’ve always hurt.  But the coming is less, the hope is greater.

No, on this, the second feast of my little saint, Cecilia Rose, I will trust You.  For, have I mentioned?  I’ve seen her.  She’s delightfully beautiful.  Mischievous, to be sure.  And, have I mentioned?  She dances.

Someday, I pray, she will dance with me.

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This post originally was posted on 10/3/07 by Caleb during the Federal Vision debate.  As always, Caleb is erudite and drives home his point with devastating insight.

Here is the link to the original (oddly formatted because of the DRC shift…shift Ireally meant shift… never any excrement around here).  The text is reproduced below but you need to check out the original to appreciate the fuller discussion including a robust comments section.

Here is the text:

Re-Paganizing the Church

James brought up pagans in the comments. Darryl mentioned that Lewis thought pagans were more ready to accept Christianity than moderns. Recently, Leithart had a short piece in First Things making basically the same point and arguing for a re-paganization of the west. This is an important discussion to have, I think, and it strikes me that, though not immediately obvious, this stuff is closely related to the phenomena of the FV (though perhaps not directly related to the specifics of FV).

Leithart argues: Part of the trick is cultivating a healthy skepticism toward secularization theories. For Max Weber and armies of Weberian sociologists, modernity disenchanted the world, locking us all in the iron cage of rationalized bureaucracy. Even modern religion and music, Weber argued, submit to the tyranny of systematization and disperse the gods. Latour will have none of this. The world has not and cannot be disenchanted: How could we be capable of disenchanting the world, he asks, when every day our laboratories and our factories populate the world with hundreds of hybrids stranger than those of the day before? . . . How could we be chilled by the cold breath of the sciences, when the sciences are hot and fragile, human and controversial, full of thinking reeds and of subjects who are themselves inhabited by things?  Kant moralized and modernized sin, atonement, justification, and the Church to bring Christianity to Enlightened maturity. Perhaps we must reverse the process and primitivize the Enlightenment, so that the gospel can again speak directly to our not-so-modern society. Perhaps we must re-paganize the West as a prerequisite to its re-evangelizing it.

This is a sophisticated argument and I think can teach us something about the roots of FV. For example, in their deep readings in Latour and Girard. I have noticed this in Wilson as well. Readers of this blog will know that I do not give such short shrift to Weber as Leithart does here, and I am skeptical of the Girardians. But the Girardian/Latourian argument has merit as well. It is true that we have not and cannot escape completely from the pagan world full of gods. However, Weber was right that the gods have been dispersed.

To put it another way, our late-modern existence is characterized just as much as any age by magical thinking. Just look at the rhetoric surrounding Iraq. Or your local lottery ticket sales. The problem is in who people craving some magic turn to as witchdoctors. Armies of materialists: therapists, experts, politicians, scientists, etc.

But Leithart’s conclusion is wrong. What is needed is not a re-paganizing of the west (anyone who wants to see what that looks like need only travel a while in west Africa), but a repaganizing of the church. Let me explain.

There is a fascinating body of literature and study on tightly knit groups of people with closely held identities who are driven from their home land. For example, the famine Irish and famine Russians who emigrated to the North American plains in the 19th Century. For these two groups of famine immigrants to the Midwest, the stigma of being emigrants was large, and largely felt as a motif of self- and communal-identity. These folks talk and write about their lives, both formally and informally in letters and such, as if they are haunted by the old country. They are totally displaced and suffer a kind of disorientation that seems almost unique among human experience. One writer said that emigrants (his family) never again feel at home any place in the world.  Once gone, they can never arrive, and they can never go back. Their writings are infused with a kind of limbo-esque existence in the borders or twilight, which of course contributes to this spiritual sense of haunting. This same writer says that for those attempting a return, even for a visit, a break had occurred that could not be healed. And in the new land, few emigrants ever made a home that they knew for certain would be theirs. Once you leave home, your native land, no matter how tenuous your hold has been, you can never feel at home anywhere you live.

I think this is a powerful description of the church, raised up in the psycho-spiritual home of blood and sacrifice, etc., and then put on the trail of emigration towards the new heavens and new earth. This is the conundrum between conversion and tradition I spoke of earlier.

Modern Christians tend to feel this phenomena of being socio-spiritual emigrants, or famine Christians acutely. Not only have they been exiled from paganism, but they have also been exiled from what I will call the church’s deal with paganism which began to crumble with the enlightenment and onset of modernity.

There was a recent letter exchange between Matthew Lickona and Jody Bottum in First Things. Bottum observes in Lickona this phenomena which I think of as the famine Christian: hunger for culture, the sense of loss, the damaged world of those in rebellion against rebellion, the strangeness created when a tradition is chosen rather than inherited; combined with intellectual seriousness and a joy in the ancient Catholic faith.  The only thing Bottum left out is this inchoate foreboding of being haunted. I think the New England transcendetalists and Hudson school guys were onto some of this same phenomena-think Washington Irving.

Anglo-catholics like Lewis, Tolkein, Chesterton, Eliot, etc., all understood the Church as a crypt in which the essential and primary blood and soil paganism of Europe was embalmed and allowed to stare up at us out of the waters. Think Tolkien’s ghostly undead kings of the past coming back to help the heroes/true church at its time of need. I don’t know exactly what Tolkien meant by that, but they are a cursed and unfriendly lot. This isn’t really redemption but a lingering paganism that speaks to this not entirely appropriate collaboration and amalgamation between Christianity and paganism in the west, which Protestantism/enlightenment/modernity has tried to efface and now has completely forgotten. This forgetting has caused all kinds of problems which was the most basic point of Tolkein’s books. The foremost problem is that Christianity as a depaganized political religion is Liberalism, radicalized and out of whack with reality in which one must at times do evil and even commit mortal sins for temporal goods that are the charge of those with political power. And then seek absolution in the magical appeasement of the gods. The medieval church allows, or found a way to admit and cope with this. It is a deal with paganism. Take it away and you get a devolution from Protestantism into liberalism. You get the new American personal faith Christianity (evangelicalism) with the magical thinking of overbought homes on ARMS and credit cards and daycare and building democracy in Iraq and all the other delusional magical thinking of late-modernity in the capitalist-state. And you get a whole new class of materialist therapeutic witchdoctors rising up to give the newest incantations: your best life now! your purpose driven life! or whatever.

So now we see American Christianity emerging more and more into universalism. It is in the water. All roads lead to ruin as Eliot knew. And for those who see this, the desire for tradition or whatever you call that which is largely lost and haunting us is a partly sick desire to unearth the dead.

We are at a dangerous crossroads. Messing with the dead is dangerous stuff. But it must be done. But like Tolkein understood, it can only be done by the true King, by the church, and even this is not without debilitating and compromises. This is connected to what I have been arguing about being able, at least occasionally, to admit that the narratives of tradition and church history are to an extent myths that legitimize what I would call the “mojo” … or the magic … the authority of the church. The simple yet profound truth that at the very bottom, we have very little to go on other than “because the church says so.”  So this is in part what I mean by repaganizing … that our churchmen need a hint of witchdoctor in them, or if you prefer, a touch of Gandalf or Merlin. They have “powers” as my kids would say. This is completely flattened out in a rationalistic modernizing deracinated disenchanted liberalizing protestant culture. And the inchoate need for magic and appeasement of the gods gets shifted in very unhealthy materialist directions which can be exploited by those who understand the psychology. Just read some of the high-end literature on advertising today.

To what extent is all of this relevant to FV? I’m not entirely sure, and I apologize for the rambling post, but my gut tells me that this stuff is very relevant.

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The Birth of a Daughter

Just 1 hour old!

Just 1 hour old!

I invoke moderator privilege to announce the birth of my daughter Mary Abigail Chellis. It was a fight but mother and baby are doing great.

It is an unbelievably humbling experience to see the birth of a daughter, and the strength of a mother.  The curse lies heavily upon the mankind who are born seemingly through the shadow of death.  Yet the curse has been overwhelmed by the blessings of Christ and His covenant.  Today my family rejoices.  She is altogether lovely.  May she be the mother of 10,000 in Israel.  This was strong magic.

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Psalmody in the RPCNA

I appreciate all of the responses to my post earlier this week. Here are some follow-up comments:

1. I do not deny that there is a time to change. There is also a time not to change. There is a season for everything. It takes wisdom to know which season it is. My main concern in the previous post was to question the wisdom of frequently changing the psalter. I believe that it will prove to be counter-productive and that it will ultimately undermine psalmody. When we regularly revise our translations of God’s Word, we shouldn’t be surprised when we begin to handle it recklessly. Hence, the introduction of hallelujah choruses into Psalms 24 and 150. This is a radical development for our new psalter. A quick survey of older psalters in the presbyterian tradition will show that this is not how the psalter has been handled by our forbears.

2. With regard to Psalm 8, in particular, I find Rev. King’s observation to be very interesting. I think he may be on to something. The only English translation I could find that used “just less than divine” was the JPS Tanakh of 1985. We’re not Jews; we are Christians. Shouldn’t we consult the NT in our translation and interpretation of the Psalms? “Next to God” or “lower than the angels” are sound translations. Doesn’t “just less than one divine” sound like a [heretical] theological statement? I’m almost ready to dub this new psalter “The Arian Psalter”. Tear out that page!

3. I’m reminded of something said by William Willimon, I believe. Becoming a Christian is like learning a new language. New Christians have hurdles to jump; that’s not a bad thing. Rev. Eshelman: Should we remove the hurdles of theological language, too? Should we stop using words like “propitiation”? If we try to reach the lost by watering down (or, vulgarizing) our language, I fear we may lose the reached. It’s not as if language is either vulgar or not. There are degrees of vulgarity. How vulgar is too vulgar? When do you lose something by vulgarizing?

4. The triumphalistic assertion that we now have singable tunes is debatable. I would give examples, but I don’t want to offend the composers.

5. I’m willing to grant, I suppose, that the King James English must eventually die out. However, I lament its departure, and I’m still not sure that we must abandon the name “Jehovah”.

6. The comments by Rev. Rockhill on tradition trouble me. If the traditions surrounding the use of Psalm 24 are good traditions, then why break them? Why must we end these traditions at this time? Just because a particular church committee tells us to?

7. I agree with Rev. Chellis in the mea culpa. I’m guilty of the same thing.

That’s all I have time for right now. I don’t necessarily want this discussion to dominate the DRC blog. Perhaps we need a separate blog where we can critique the 2009 RP psalter more thoroughly. Or perhaps we should do that here. I think this could be a very fruitful discussion. Thoughts?

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R. Scott Clark has thoughtfully reviewed the latest Harry Potter movie with his Heidelblog post Harry Potter and the Allure of a Magical World. Dr. Clark finds much to enjoy about the Half-Blood Prince but draws down from the flights of fantasy by reminding us that the legacy of the Reformation includes, “the de-sacralization of the world.”

No doubt Dr. Clark is correct.  His assertion, here attributed to Bob Godfrey, that the Reformation led to the de-sacralization of the creation and the secularization of politics is a standard part of the Whig-worldview  By “de-sacralization”, Clark means the process of removing religious or sacred significance from the creation.  A dubious project in light of Psalm 19’s declaration that the “spacious heavens declare the glory of our God”, the rainbow that testifies to God’s covenant promise, and the cadence of days, weeks, and seasons that point us to the the spiritual realities of life, death, and resurrection.  Further, it seems like an odd legacy of Calvin who rejected the concept of natural law in favor of God’s direct providential intervention upholding his creation by the Word of His power.  New England Puritan obsession with things going bump in the night suggest that the Pilgrim fathers were poor representatives of the modernist impulse toward “de-sacralization.”  But what did they know?  They never read Max Weber.  Neither, of course, did Luther, whose Table Talk is enough to make a Whig’s face flush with embarrassment.

Perhaps, Clark’s thesis is beyond dispute. The Protestant Reformation may well have opened the door for the de-sacralization of the world.  I say, more the pity for the world.  Nature has lost its transcendence, and daily life its deeper meaning.  With Burke I will lament the loss, “the age of chivalry is gone.  That of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever… now all has changed.  All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason.  All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off.”

I lament the lose of enchantment found when man makes peace with nature, and exercising the moral imagination, begins to see the reality beyond the shadows in which we grope.  I lament the rise of a dark magic, one rooted in rebellion against nature and the sinful desire to dominate and destroy it.

Is the desire to find a fuller incarnation of magic in the realm of fairee problematic for the Christian?  Clearly not.  Rather, it is the attempt to use one of our greatest tools against the powers of dark magic, the moral imagination, to glimpse the transcendent goodness of the creation, to remember the enchanted garden from which we we were driven, and to see this world as it will be when all thing have put to right.  C.S. Lewis illustrates this truth in the Last Battle.  Here we find the stirring image of the the true Narnia, the real Narnia, experienced only when the created Narnia was destroyed.   Lord Digory explains, “But that was not real Narnia.  That had a beginning and an end.  It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or a copy of something in Aslans real world.  You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy.  All of the old Narnia that mattered, has been drawn in through the door.”

This in our confident hope.  Until then, I will reject all flat theories of scientism, secularism, naturalism, and utilitarianism.  Instead I will teach my family to behold with wonder  the magic in God’s incomprehensible common grace.  In the Spring we will plant our garden seeds with prayer, in the summer we will look for the wonder of new life, in the fall we will rejoice in a bounty brought forth, not by impersonal laws of nature, but by the hand of the living God.  And, with a sense of awe, we will commit ourselves to a deeper piety toward or God and His creation. Along the way we will not be surprised to catch a glimpse of fairies in flight, to chance upon the great leviathan that swims in the depths one of our local lakes, or to chilled at each bump in the night wondering if we are haunted by some ancestral shadow.  We will live in a world full of incomprehensible mystery… and we will call it magic.

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[also posted at: http://lehrman.isi.org/blog/%5D

Last Thursday morning, I stood on the Lexington green with my beautiful and sagacious wife, my five very active and somewhat mischievous children, the talented Ben Cohen (acting as Paul Revere; and who also turned out to be a supporter of Hillsdale College), the vivacious Malana Salyer of Gary Gregg’s McConnell Center, and roughly twenty-seven teachers from Kentucky.

As “Paul Revere” described the battle on the commons that morning–the Lexingtonians greatly outnumbered by the advancing British–I felt immensely humbled.

“Revere” pointed out the buildings, oriented us, described the troop movements, explained the ideas the Lexingtonians held as they stood at ready, and the consequences of the actions taken in April 1775.  One Lexingtonian, shot on the green, even crawled back to his house, literally across the street, and into his wife’s arms to die.

Last Thursday, I stood at the very birthplace of America.

Despite the rain, despite the photos being taken, and despite the restless children, I could only think of that moment, 234 years earlier.  A moment touched by honor, touched by manhood, touched by virtue, touched by patriotism, and, most importantly, touched by sacrifice.  Indeed, one might even write, saturated with sacrifice.

A moment–in which an untold number of decisions were made by free and dignified individual human persons–that would change the world.  A choice here, a choice there, a consequence here, a consequence there.  I was reminded that there is no real “progress” in history; only remembrance; only heroic action; and only sins of omission or commission.  I was also reminded of the power of liberty and the virtues and vices it presents.

As Arthur B. Tourtellot wrote in his excellent work of history, Lexington and Concord, the decisions made on the green had nothing to do with economic advantage, economic disadvantage, or structures of political power.  The ideas that drove the Lexingtonians to resist were deeply cultural and religious.  They were the ideas of Protestant non-conformists and men rooted in the western and Anglo-Saxon traditions of rights and common law.  “And it is a truth, which the history of the ages and the common experiences of mankind have fully confirmed, that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-being of communities or to a well regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity or rashness,” the most prominent individual and leader of Lexington, the Reverend Jonas Clarke said during the Stamp Act crisis. Ten years later in his own community, his sermons and political writings both explained and inspired.  Liberties “are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned,” Clarke concluded.

As I awoke this morning in southern Michigan to find yet another stunning, cool, dry summer day (the finest of my ten Michigan summers, to be sure), I also awoke to an even more disturbing than usual headline in the New York Times: Russian submarines patrolling off the coast of America; the Navy dumbfounded.

What a summer.  The governor of South Carolina, by all accounts a fascinating and imaginative man, traveling to Latin America to meet with a mistress.  Bailouts beyond the dreams of avarice to spend our way out of trouble.  Cash for clunkers–seemingly more environmentally destructive than anything the original cars and car owners were capable of–which merely transfers wealth from the taxpayer to the car dealer and the automobile company?  And, now the Russians are demonstrating their bravado off of our coasts?

Is this what Rev. Clarke fought for?  Is this why the men of Lexington were willing to die, even as their wives and children watched from the windows and doors of their homes?  Where is liberty, where is virtue, and where is character in our modern and post-modern America?  Where is the willingness to sacrifice everything–including life itself–for the legitimate defense of one’s family, one’s community, and one’s faith?

Well, for a brief moment last week, the sacrifice of those men became manifest and tangible.  For a very brief moment, I could remember their moment, reach toward their decisions, and feel the consequences of their actions.

Now, if I can only find the words to pass on those remembrances to my students, to my children, and to my friends.

Liberties “are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned.”

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