A Warning of the End

On December 28, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, War, by marc

This passage from Witness gave me the chills, mostly from recognition of our current state in the U.S. today:

Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss

No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them.  It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him.  It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.

It seems to me that one could replace “Alger Hiss” with any number of leftist social causes and issues (not the least of which would be “health care reform”) and you’ve got America circa 2009.  Frightening.

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The Child

On December 13, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

According to Whittaker Chambers (writing in Witness), in the 1930s committed American Communists were opposed to the notion of having children, seeing them as a distraction from the important work of fomenting revolution within the United States.  Chambers himself said that he”…took it for granted that children were out of the question.”

Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers

In early 1933, his wife informed him that she was pregnant.  After first assuming that an abortion would occur in order to avoid the inconvenience to the cause that a child would cause, it became clear that his wife intended to keep the baby.  Chambers goes on a bit later to describe the experience of meeting his daughter for the first time:

[my wife] was scarcely out of the anesthetic, and reeking of ether, when I sat beside her bed.  As I looked at her white, hollowed face and the deep, leaden circles under her eyes, and felt her feverish fingers, I thought: “What have I done to her?”  At that moment, I cared only for my wife and nothing at all for the child.

My wife kept urging me feebly to go and look at it  She wanted me, of course, to approve and love what had so nearly cost her life (the birth had been terrible).  I went into the hall.  Through a glass panel, I peered into the antiseptic nursery where banks of babies lay in baskets.  A nurse, with a wonderfully personal smile,  considering the miscellaneous fathers to whom she pointed out their babies, pointed out mine.  The child had been born long enough to have lost the puckered, red, natal look.  Her face was pink, and peaceful.  She was sleeping.  her long lashes lay against her cheeks.  She was beautiful.

I went back to my wife who was no longer only my wife but the mother of our child – the child we all yearn for, who, even before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which we could not even see.

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Emergents and “Offsetting”

On December 5, 2009, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

David F. Wells, from The Courage To Be Protestant:

The name most associated with postliberals is George Lindbeck.  He proposed a way of viewing Scripture that did not require belief in the actual truthfulness of its language.  Rather, Scripture functions more like a traffic cop whose business it is to ensure that everyone moves around in a reasonable way.  Not only so, but Lindbeck also wrested the interpretation of Scripture from the individual and placed it in the hands of the community.  It is not hard to see why emergents have taken a shine to this.

The Courage To Be Protestant by David F. Wells

The Courage To Be Protestant by David F. Wells

Growing out of this is a far more “open” attitude to other faith traditions such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  Emergents are doctrinal minimalists.  They are ecclesiastical free spirits who flit around a much smaller doctrinal center and are often obliging of cultural and generational habits.  By their very posture they are resistant to doctrinal structure that would contain and restrict them.

Emergents also think more about networking with each other than about working together under the same truth as evangelicals once did, more about salvation experienced in community than in individualistic ways, more about the suffering on earth now than the suffering in eternity later.  they are not eager to engage (post)modernity critically.  Indeed, they are as much submerged beneath it as they are emerging from it.  Rather than distancing themselves from their own cultural world because they have been impelled to do so by Christian truth, they are more intent on simply huddling with fellow human sufferers.  They may be willing to critique society for its social ills, but they are reserved about making judgments on private behavior such as homosexuality.  What is emerging is clearly a rather different attitude about evangelical faith and practice than was seen before.  We did, however, see these same attitudes in the older Protestant liberalism.

All of this, it seems to me, is a version of “offsetting.”  Offsetting is what the environmentally conscious do.  They worry about their carbon footprint.  How, then, are they going to take a vacation that requires flying since that would also involve a significant use of jet fuel with all the carbon left behind after the burn.  Easy!  In Britain, for example, there are businesses that cater to those of sensitive consciences.  Buy your ticket from them and they will plant a tree for you.  That is offsetting.

Here, among the emergents, am I mistaken in thinking that a different kind of offsetting is happening?  The loss of truth is being offset by increasingly adventurous experiments in worship and by various attempts at recovering a lost sense of mystery.  My view is that this kind of offsetting is an illusion.  There is no offset for the loss of truth.  There can be only a cover up of what has taken place.  when our knowledge of God’s truth is diminished, our understanding of God is diminished, and no amount of contrived mystery through ancient liturgies or gathering in the presence of dim, flickering candlelight can compensate for this loss.

“a torturing thought”

On December 2, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

Whittaker Chambers, from Witness, describing the effect of Stalin’s purge on communists like him:

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin: an architect, and eventual victim, of Soviet Communism

Since the purge, millions of men, women and children in the world have died violently.  the 20th century has put out of its mind, because it can no longer cope with the enormity of the statistic, the millions it has exterminated in its first fifty years.  Even among those millions the number killed in the Purge makes a formidable figure.  But, on a Communist, not only the numbers, but the revolutionary stature of the purgees, had a shattering impact.  To the Western world, those strange names – Rykov, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Piatkov, Rakovsky, Krylenko, Latsis, Tuchachevky, Muralov, Smirnov, Karakhan, Mrachkovsky – were merely tongue twisters.  To a Communist, they were the men who had made one of the greatest transformations in human history – the Russian Revolution.  The charge, on which they were one and all destroyed, the charge that they had betrayed their handiwork, was incredible.  They were the Communist Party.  If the charge was true, then every other Communist had given his life for a fraud.  If the charge was false, then every other Communist was giving his life for a fraud.  This was a torturing thought.  No communist could escape it.

More on Bukharin here, and his death cell letter to Stalin here.

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From Chapter 6 – entitled “Reformed Dogmatics” –  of Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck:

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Reformed theology starts with Zwingli.  In his work the basic ideas are already present – the theological starting point, the absolute dependence of humanity, predestination, the human nature of Christ, the spiritual conception of the church and sacraments, the ethical and political import of the Reformation.  But there are still many lacunae in Zwingli’s theology.  As a result of his humanism, he fails to plumb the depths of sin and the atonement; as a result of his spiritualism, he abstractly and dualistically construes God and man, divine and human justice, the sign and the thing signified in the sacrament, as opposites.  Zwingli’s clarity and lucidity of thought cannot compensate for the lack of depth.  He never arrived at a somewhat well-rounded and coherent system.  Zwingli laid down only the general contours within which various strains in the Reformed churches later unfolded.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

It took Calvin’s organizational genius and systematic mind to give the Swiss Reformation its clearly defined doctrine and stable organization.  Calvin’s theology had already assumed firm shape in the first edition of his Institutes (1536).  There is expansion and development but no change.  Calvin differs from Zwingli in that he banishes all philosophical and humanistic ideas and adheres as rigorously as possible to Scripture.  Further , more successfully than Zwingli, he maintains the objectivity of the Christian religion, of the covenant of God, of the person and work of Christ, of Scripture, church, and sacrament, and is therefore in a stronger position to resist the Anabaptists.  Moreover, he overcomes Luther’s antithesis between the spiritual and the secular and Zwingli’s antithesis between flesh and spirit and therefore, though rigorist, is in no way an ascetic.  Finally, he introduced unity and system in his thinking – something neither Luther nor Zwingli succeeded in doing – and nevertheless consistently maintained the connection with the Christian life.  In time, Calvin managed to win all of Switzerland for his views – even in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Consensus Tigurinus, 1549) and predestination (Consensus Genev., 1552, Second Helvetic Confession, 1564).  Soon Calvin’s Institutes were studied everywhere.

Books I Really Should Have

On December 1, 2009, in Books I'd Like, General, by marc