Saturday, October 07, 2006
Linkburger in Paradise
Justin Taylor on books that shaped Evangelicalism. The list is from CT an Justin takes some exception to the number one pick, which I agree with. But what about including a Yancey book anywhere on the list? Can you say "Conflict of Interest?"
Proof? - liberalism is its own religion.
I'll stick with the hiccups thank you!
More scientists using SciFi to describe what they accomplish and mostly misleading people.
The Twilight Zone exists.
I wanna go!
THE FOLLOWING MAY BE THE MOST VITALLY IMPORTANT INFORMATION YOU WILL EVER ENCOUNTER:
I don't live there, I have never lived there, wouldn't know anything about it.
Related Tags: Mars, Evangelicalism, liberalism, joke, humor, wisecrack
I also think there is no more literarily rich character than the Hulk, and I am saddened by the fact that in my opinion, that literary richness has never been realized. Think about it for a minute. Bruce Banner/The Hulk is literally a man at war with himself. In many ways it is the perfect metaphor for what it means to be a Christian - we are people at war with our sinful natures.
And yet, I guess because that comment is so foreign to the secular worldview, that incredible metaphorical richness has never been fully explored in the character. Instead we find that he is really two people in one body, or multiple personalities, or we are treated to the Frankenstein story, the gentle monster hounded to monstrousness.
There have been homages to spirituality, particularly as the Hulk is portrayed within the pages of The Defenders. Therein, the otherwise completely anti-social Hulk functions as part of a team because somehow Doctor Strange, with his powers of magic and the occult, can communicate with the nearly sub-verbal beast. Imagine the power in that metaphor - the beast with which the man battles can only be reached, can only be tamed, on a spiritual level. Such richness left laying there.
As to the variations of the character, they are amazing. With all this richness, the stories have instead dipped into plain old science fiction - He is the only charcter to ever change color, I think. He has been to planets of Hulks. He has had varying degrees of intelligent from Bruce Banner's nuclear physicist's mind to a compltely unintelligent embodiment of pure rage. He has lived the the end of time itself being the only creature alive in the universe. He has spawned hundreds on imitators, all using the same radiation of the Hulk;s origin to try and gain his power, and none coming truly close.
All of this, I think, to avoid the obvious - that is the metaphors and themes I have described. I cannot help but wonder what a C.S. Lewis with his marvelous near-allegorical tales like Narnia and the Science Fiction Trilogy could have done with a character like the Hulk, or Tolkien for that matter.
And it is not, by the way, that comic writers are inferior in anyway, many of them could compare with Lewis in fiction writing (though I think Tolkien might be a stretch) and the medium can, in this day and age, tackle a story of such richness and complexity. I just think the lack of going in this direction reflects two things. One the need to keep a good character going, and two a fear of such themes on the part of the secular.
Like Bruce Wayne, I want to see Bruce Banner saved somehow. With Banner I know how, the problem is it would kill the Hulk forever.
Related Tags: comics, comic books, comic art, The Defenders, The Hulk
Friday, October 06, 2006
The First Century Church...
That thought went floating through my head the other day as I was considering "liberal Evangelicals." I grow weary of being told that as a "right-wing Christians" I do not care for the poor and oppressed, that I do not wish to comply with the biblical mandate to feed the widows and orphans.
Consider Sojouners - they are constantly babbling about feeding the poor being more important than same-sex marriage...or The Evangelical Climate Initiative who tell us:
The consequences of global warming will therefore hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.These people claim the moral high ground on dealing with poverty because they are willing to press government action on same, when I am not.
Since when does a willingness to press government action on any issue grant any sort of moral superioirity, one way or the other? Has Evangelicalism grown to the point where political action matters more than theology and morality? Do I believe my opposition to same-sex marriage morally superior to those that desire it? Of course I do! But I base that judgment not on the fact that I am willing to have the discussion in the political arena, but because I have the authority of scripture and and the weight of history in my camp.
So where do these liberal Evangelicals get off telling me I am morally inferior because I do not want the government to be in the poverty relief business? How do they know what my moral stance on the issue is? Once, just once, I would like to see the liberal Evangelicals quote the statistics on conservative Evangelical giving to private poverty relief organizations and make that accusation. Heck, I personally have given some of these very organizations money for poverty relief until they grew more political than active.
I grow increasingly tired of the tenor of political debate within the faith community. Our faith is not measured by our political stances or actions, on either side of the conservative/liberal divide. Morality is a religious/philosophical construct, not a political one. I have aimed this rant at liberal Evangelicals, but make no mistake, conservatives are often guilty of it as well.
The Apostle Paul said:
1 Cor 2:2 - For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.I don't care what the issue or circumstance - start there and let the rest of it fall into its proper place, aligned with that ultimate fact. Please! - before we lose the faith in maze of politics and sound bites.
Related Tags: poverty, liberal Evangelicals, conservative Evangelicals, morality, politics
Stairway To Links
Islamic reason -- I heard similar things in the Soviet Union in 1991 just before the revolution. Hmmmmm. (HT: The Hedgehog)
Trying to make the very uncute - sound cute. Not good.
I'm not sure what to make of this - every church generation thinks it is loosing the kids, but I do think the increasing association of faith and politics will casue some revulsion. But this:
Genuine alarm can be heard from Christian teenagers and youth pastors, who say they cannot compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion, and the casual ?hooking up? approach to sex so pervasive on MTV, on Web sites for teenagers and in hip-hop, rap and rock music. Divorced parents and dysfunctional families also lead some teenagers to avoid church entirely or to drift away.That's abysmal - they day we feel like the Gospel cannot compete is the day we have lost our faith.
Tragedy - indeed tragedy.
I really want to know how it got to the point he could "spread it around"? You have to make it or import it - how'd he get that job done?
Time waster that'll make your hand hurt.
Movie continuity errors - how many did you spot?
Remember those cartoons where the guy's head shrunk and shrunk? I'm pretty sure that's what they are worried about here.
Related Tags: archaeology, Islam, chimera, faith, game, joke, humor, wisecrack
Hillary told her driver to go up to the farmhouse and explain to the owners what had happened. She stayed in the car making phone calls to lobbyists.
About an hour later the driver staggered back to the car with his clothes in disarray. He was holding a half-empty bottle of expensive wine in one hand, a rare, huge Cuban cigar in the other, and was smiling happily, smeared with lipstick.
"What happened to you," asked Hillary?
"Well," the driver replied, "the farmer gave me the cigar, his wife gave me the wine, and their beautiful twin daughters made mad passionate love to me."!
"My God, what did you tell them?" asked Hillary.
The driver replied, "I just stepped inside the door and said, I'm Hillary Clinton's driver and I've just killed the old cow.
Related Tags: joke, humor, Friday humor, Hillary Clinton
Thursday, October 05, 2006
In a world where sin prevails, is not our job as the community of faith to battle and overcome that sin? Does that not mean that we need to take people where they may not go naturally? And does not that mean that we may need to do more than figure out what they want and give it to them?
The scientifc method has made us a very data dependent people. Seems like we can never decide what to do without "knowing all the facts." But so often, all the facts are not knowable. This is very apparent in all the writing I have been doing about creation matters lately. The picture simply is not in focus on so much "environmental," and won't be for a great long time.
We also see the problem in business management. As part of my work I do emergency planning for facilities. This means I have to create an organizational chart for emergency management. It is always a very vertical org chart. Most business today has a very horizontally oriented org chart and when they see the one I have cooked up there are always objections. "Don't we need everybody's opinion before we decide?" It seems like I always have to explain that when there is a fire burning down the hall there is no time for a meeting to reach consensus - someone has to decide and others have to abide by that decision. It can be difficult in some of these businesses to find a real leader - someone willing to risk making a decision without all the data.
I could not help but think about this as I have been thinking so much about wisdom lately (part of leading a Bible Study for high school seniors). It seems to me that wisdom is often the method by which decisions can be made even when the data is not all available. Therefore, it seems to me that one criteria for genuine leadership is wisdom, not organizational skill, not oratory, not having a lot of knowledge, but genuine wisdom.
This is likely why genuine leadership is so rare these days. The qualifications are hard to come by. Wisdom, as we have discussed before, is a function not of my accomplishment, but of my submission to the Lord. Genuine leadership can make a decision in th absence of all the data because genuine wisdom relies on more than data, it relies on the will of the Creator.
Oh how I long for such leadership.
Related Tags: leadership, wisdom, decisions, data, Christians
This Link Is My Link
Oxymoron? Anybody? -- anybody?
The things politicians do. She can't support the party on judicial appointments, but by God she'll sell lobster!
This is not an article, it's a personality test. Your reaction will reveal much.
Speaking of which:
|You Are Pretty Logical|
You're a bit of a wizard when it comes to logic
While you don't have perfect logic, you logic is pretty darn good
Keep at it - you've got a lot of natural talent in this area!
What would Samuel L Jackson do if robbed by "armed snakes"?
Linked because I simply must
Snicker, smirk, guffaw, laugh - yes we are all that childish. (HT: BHT)
A Japanese mental health counselor recited pi to 100,000 decimal places from memory on Wednesday,A case of "physician heal thyself"? We report, you decide.
A bit too close to negotiating with terrorists. Not that I blame Mike for stopping this tragedy, but these people need to be put out of my misery. Speaking of where the church goes wrong.
You have to laugh, you really do.
Perhaps it's fortunate Irwon died when he did. He could have been out of work.
Related Tags: environment, global warming, politics, geekiness, personality, bad church, joke, humor, wisecrack
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The Best Thing A Blogger Can Do!
Look at those dates! - That's pretty soon now. And yet, I have been informed that the registrations for GBC '06 are not going as strongly as hoped. I am forced to wonder why.
It really is bewildering to me - I cannot think of a single blogger I would not like to see there, to meet, to get to know a bit, even the ones I don't agree with much.
I'd especially like to meet all my fellow Presbyterians from the PC(USA) blog ring there!
Have we all become so enthralled by the sound of our own voices that we do not feel the need to get together and figure out how to make this blogging thing fulfill it's enormous potential? Gosh, I hope not. That view robs blogging of power and makes us the pajama clad fools the MSM is fond of painting us as. Are we afraid to look each other in the eye because we have said such nasty things about somebody? Nothing can heal a rif like that like meeting and talking about it. Do we not take our blogging seriously enough to use the time and expense? If last year is any indication - this will be more fun than you thought you could have with a computer.
I cannot think of a reason YOU should not come to GBC. I hope you'll join us.
By the way, yes I am a speaker at the conference, but I ain't getting a thing out of it, no books to sell, no axes to grind - I just want to meet you!
Related Tags: GodBlogCon, invitation
Pour Some Links On Me
Official denouncement! - These people know not the grace of Jesus Christ and are do not share the same religion I do.
Won't that leave a mark?
How to paint a target on yourself.
Russia's most valuable commodity? DA!
Release your inner-nerd for Halloween. Did you know the Rubick's Cube is the most visible application of mathematical "Group Theory" and that one can actually calculate a solution? Indeed! Good thing I have no inner-nerd - huh?
And here I thought it would be a broken home, or maybe mental illness.
NO!! - not biochemistry. - YUCK!
There is an old, very tasteless joke - "What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs hangin on a wall? - Art!" Why did this bring that to mind?
Oh good, this will help.
Trying to turn shame to sympathy is becoming the great American past-time and I am getting sick of it. Try turning shame to repentance the results are much better.
Related Tags: Foley, North Korea, art, joke, humor, wisecrack
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
There is Cessasionism And Then There is Silly...
Recently Dan Phillips posted on prayer. I caught it when Brad responded with an excellent post on the efficacy of prayer. Dan got a lot of comments and dealt with some of them in which he made the startling admission that the Holy Spirit might actually act behind the scenes, which caused Adrian Warnock to mock him affectionately, and confessed that prayer was, in fact, effective.
In one sense, this strikes me as much ado about little. A careful reading of Dan's orginal post finds it not that far out of line - it merely does what the Pyromaniacs so often do - overstate their case for the sake of controversy.
But there are a one thing that I find interesting laying about in this discussion. In Dan's scriptural citations that God does not speak to us, he neglets numerous Old Testament accounts of direct converation between patriarchs and prophets and the Lord. He also neglects apostolic accounts of the same. I am forced to conclude that Dan's cessasionism extends not merely to the miraculous, but all the way to the ordinary - that in fact, God no longer acts in history in any fashion other than indirect providence. I think this is what Dan means with his now well mocked quotation
I do think we can retrospectively and fallibly see times when our apparently-solitary thinking, planning, analysis, and decision-making had been directed by God from "behind the scenes," as it were.Can I personally claim to be conversant with the Almighty? No I can't. - Nor have I ever met anyone that I thought had a legitimate claim to it. Even those gifted with tongues that I know, claim not to know what they are saying, so it hardly qualifies as converstion. But that does not mean I don't think it can happen.
Here's why. We worship a supernatural Lord, by definition. He can do whatever He wants. When we restrict our belief structures to the purely, apparently, and exclusively natural, we deny at least part of the reality of that Lord. Providence is a mighty thing, and God does indeed act in this fashion, but He is not limited by it.
On a philosophical level, naturalism is the greatest enemy of Christianity today. It seems to me the generally reformed denial of God's supernatural action is a part of the slope down which we have travelled intellectually to give naturalism this much sway.
We need to exercise care when we state things. God may choose not to act supernaturally, but He most assuredly can, and I have to believe does at the points in history where it suits Him. To think anything less is to think of a lesser God and that is not something we can afford at this place in history.
Related Tags: naturalism, supernatural, miracles, prayer, divine intervention
The Theme from "Links"
Re: Foley - There it is
Mark Steyn and Narrative.
Here's a NO-DUH! for you.
Beautiful, if not the most beautiful I have ever seen, its historic value cannot be overestimated. I'll send money for Canterbury Cathedral conversation. Although, the guy that sits there leaves me wondering from time-to-time.
I guess its better than homosexual pedophilia, but the RCC really needs a break.
I would think one would explode before a committee could reach a decision! That's taking democracy a bit too seriously.
I think we should hire them for target practice.
This will not sell a lot of movie tickets. (I don't know any women that want to be rescued by a guy with a flaming skull head) Fortunately, the trailer sold me on the movie a while back.
Maybe, but I love the thrill.
Related Tags: suffering, Foley, narrative, global warming, Canterbury Cathedral, Roman Catholic Church, joke, humor, wisecrack
Monday, October 02, 2006
Emotions Are Powerful Things
I actually started this post before I came across Jollyblogger's and Adrian Warnock's discussion of the role of emotions in faith, but in his latest entry, buddy David says so much of what I intended to say that I have to reorient completely.
One of the most refreshing things about coming to a reformed point of view was the objective orientation of reformed theology. In other words, it affirms that Christianity is not about what I do for God, nor what I feel toward God, but what God has done for me in Christ. Christianity says "look outside of yourself to Him" rather than "look inside at your feelings."I have something to add, but find that I must disclaim any specific personal aiming point for my comments since I have now placed them in the context of David and Adrian's discussion. They are not aimed at Adrian.
Many of us fled evangelicalism mysticism with its subjective emphases and finally found peace in the reformed tradition with it's objective emphases. It gets tiring to continually take your spiritual temperature by your feelings because they are all over the map. What we need is to constantly be reminded of our inclusion in the beloved because of the work of Christ on the cross. It reminds us that even when I am feeling bad, because of Christ I am still as close as I can be to the Father.
Insofar as Adrian and Piper and Edwards affirm that, I am all for it. Insofar as they say "look to the cross and let the cross shape your emotions," that's great. But I think they need to be careful about making emotions the measure of spirituality.
It is quite appealing in a ministry role to manipulate emotion. In my day in Young Life we were masters at it. Not only is it easy to manipulate emotion, it's really easy in adolescents. Like counting butts in pews, emotional response is another tempting, but misleading, method to measure ministry effectiveness.
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says
Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods "where they get off," you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.In ministry we seek to help people develop genuine faith. That is terribly hard work. Frankly it is work only the Holy Spirit can do, reducing us as ministers to simply placing ourselves in that same Holy Spirit's hands to use and to produce result.
It is so tempting to control "the weather," by building a nice facility with all the right programs and technology, and help people have "good digestion," Starbucks in the Narthex - lunch after service, and achieve the emotional result we desire, an emotional result that produces the illusion of genuine faith, but a faith that disappears with the change in weather and the lousy meal.
Will faith in Christ change our emotional state? Absolutely, but our emotional state DOES NOT produce faith in Christ. We cannot afford to substitute mere emotional manipulation for genuine ministry. We cannot allow the temptations of the measurable to substitute for the reality of God's immeasurable grace.
Cross-posted at How To Be A Christian And Still Go To Church
Related Tags: faith, emotions, moods, minstry, manipulation
WARNING - These Links Could Cause Global Warming
Besides, there are better explanations for global warming. Hey, it makes at least as much sense as this...
Speaking of global warming - Al "Tons-O-Fun" Gore tells us that cigarette smoking is a significant contributor. No really! As Jonah Goldberg points out - smoking should help with global warming. If anything, this is proof global warming is a religion. Much as bizarro-Christianity now has "Christian everything" (see myriad examples here) so global warming has become a catch-all for everything someone wants to control. How long before there is a global warming reformation?
Finally, some truth to the matter.
On the environmental activism front - why exploit them when you can kill them? This should be funny, but I can't laugh.
From "Ozone Hole" land - this makes no sense to me whatsoever. The Antarctic hole is man-made - the result of CFC's, but the Arctic hole is natural because of a change in winds increasing nitrogen oxide levels in the ozone layer. For one thing - how do they know which mechanism is working where for sure, and secondly nitrogen oxides are smog, but here they are natural? If CFC's can migrate from populated areas to the poles, why can't NOX? Could it be because they have found a new, broader, better-selling potential disaster? Just wondering.
The most grammatically strained environmental observation of all time.
The strange proposition that nature is apparently polluting itself...You'll excuse me while I go glue my head back together.
Fear mongering at it's finest. Actually, its funding extraction at its finest, but it's so hard to tell the difference these days.
God save us from ourselves! Oh wait, He did that already - ON THE CROSS!
As half of a childless couple, this simply makes me cry.
Great, great stuff - thanks to Mark Daniels for posting it.
You know, when I was younger, I would have thought this a fine way to have a car accident. Now, well....
Now this is science. And as the child of someone that once bought a popcorn company, a chance to bore you to tears with popcorn trivia and science. Did you know...?
(WARNING - Completely tasteless joke follows) I know if I had sex with a koala, I wouldn't want it to get pregnanat. It's a good thing I am not that kind of "scientist."
OK, I think this "obesity epidemic" thing has gone just a bit too far.
Related Tags: global warming, pollution, environment, ozone holes, church, joke, humor, wisecrack
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Slept Late Links
A see-sawing climate and the presence of intermittent land access between Britain and what is now continental Europe allowed only stuttering waves of immigration.Then - natural phenomena that enabled the settlement of the isle and the betterment of all mankind - now, man-made-earth-destroying disaster. Hmmmm.
Thanks goodness I don't have a common name - I mean "John" is so unusual, but then there is my middle name "Salmon" - trust me, that'll set you apart - but apparently "Wayne" will not.
Apparently Hitler is alive and living with Elvis.
Making golf interesting.
So that's how it works!? - COOL!
Well, if it's an environmental problem, now it's important.
OH Please - like it matters. "Grammerians" have to be the most anally-retentive people on the planet. Remember the lessons of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence"
Pardon my while I gie my wife a small slice of heaven.
Related Tags: global warming, environment, joke, humor, wisecrack
Sermons and Lessons
Walter F. Adney - Principal of Lancashire Independent College 1903 -1909; born Ealing, Middlesex, England; educated New College, London; seventeen years Congregational minister at Acton; fourteen years professor of New Testament exegesis and Church history at Hackney College, London; lecturer in history of doctrine at the University of Manchester; editor of the "Century Bible"; D.D. from St. Andrew's, Scotland; author of "The Hebrew Utopia," "From Christ to Constantine," "From Constantine to Charles the Great," "Theology of the New Testament" (which has been translated into Japanese), "Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther," "Canticles and Lamentations" (Expositor's Bible), "Women of the New Testament," "How to Read the Bible," "A Century's Progress," "St. Luke and Galatians and Thessalonians" (Century Bible), etc.
"As truth is in Jesus." - Eph. 4 : 21.
We hear this phrase very frequently quoted, but too often in ways that miss the pith and point of it. Sometimes it is used quite indefinitely, for the whole realm of Christian doctrine; and sometimes it is applied in a peculiar manner to a singularly constricted scheme of ideas to which its admirers confine that great word "gospel." Both of these usages show a failure to catch the original tone of the phrase.
This should be suggested to us by the simplicity of the name of our Lord. It is just "Jesus" - the bare personal name, shorn of all titles and honors, of all reference to his kingship and divine nature. That is quite unusual in the epistles - most unusual with Paul. In the epistles - especially in Paul's Epistles - we nearly always have some such expression as "Jesus Christ," "Christ Jesus," "Christ" alone, "the Lord," "the Lord Jesus Christ." But when we go back to the gospels we come upon the simple name "Jesus." In a word, that is the name our Lord bears in the gospels, while "Christ" is specifically His name in the epistles.
Now this is not merely a question of words. "Jesus" was our Lord's personal name, the name by which He was known in His boyhood and obscurity at Nazareth, before any dreamed who He was, and what lie was to become; it was the name by which lie was known to the end by those people who rejected His high claims.
Why, then, does Paul here strip the name of the titles of honor and reverence which the disciples had learned to attach to it? If we examine a few of their passages in the epistles where this is done, we shall see that they all point in one and the same direction. They all call our attention to the earthly life of our Lord, to that life which we have in the gospel story.
Truth in Jesus, then, is truth in the life of Jesus on earth; to us it is truth contained and revealed in the gospel story.
But, you will ask, why, then, was this not stated more clearly? Why do we not read "the truth which Jesus taught?" Because, there is a closer relation between Jesus and truth than there is between the mere teacher and his lesson. As a matter of fact, I suppose nobody can teach well any truth except that which is in him. A man must have assimilated an idea and made it part of himself before he can impart it effectively to others. Phillips Brooks tells us "and none knew it better than he" that a sermon should be truth passing through the experience of the preacher, and Henry Ward Beecher once said, "Preaching is the preacher laying his heart on the people."
But it is even more than that with our Lord's teaching of truth; because His vital and personal relation to it is peculiarly intimate. John the Baptist was "a voice crying in the wilderness," a voice, the message everything, the speaker a negligible quantity. But Jesus is more than a voice - He is truth incarnate. So He can say, "I am the light of the world," "I am the truth."
We often hear of the return to Christ which our age has witnessed, and if we ask, what are the most modern ideas in religion? The answer is, "The ideas of the Sermon on the Mount." Apparently some people are just discovering these ideas for the first time - to them; and the discovery is a perfect revelation for them. But we have not all the truth Jesus is prepared to give us when we have His words. The words of Him who spake as never man spake are of incomparable worth. When a scrap of a papyrus containing six or eight very doubtful sentences ascribed to our Lord is discovered, its contents are devoured with the keenest interest. There is an admirable little book entitled, "The Master's Guide," in which the sayings of Jesus collected from the New Testament are arranged under the headings of various topics. You can not read such a book without feeling that what it contains is altogether unique. Here we have the regalia of the kingdom of heaven, every sentence a gem. And yet we should be heavy losers if we gave up the four gospels in exchange for such a book as this. It is not enough to know what Jesus said. We want to know Jesus Himself, Jesus - as He is revealed in deed and life as well as in word and teaching. Here we have the truth He brings to us in its fullness and vitality and power - "as truth is in Jesus."
Now we are often reminded that this is an age when Pilate's weary question - perhaps I should say his cynical question: "What is truth?" is being asked with a new intensity of interest. It is an age of many questions. Unfortunately, it is also an age of many answers, an age of many voices all clamorous for a hearing, each offering its own solution of the riddles of existence. If any of us are driven to seek peace in the intellectual Nirvana of agnosticism, it is not for want of a gospel, it is rather from the bewilderment of the claims of too many gospels. But how otherwise are we to escape from this confusion of cries, this babel of utterances, and all the perplexity it engenders and the despair of ever reaching truth to which it points?
I answer; we must turn a deaf ear to the whole of them, and seek truth in Jesus. We must leave the library and enter our chamber; take with us our New Testament; turn to the gospels; make a study of them - a study with this specific end in view - to discover truth.
Immediately we begin thus to study Jesus, so to say, at first hand in these gospel portraits, one characteristic most strikes us. As a leader He is quite sure of what He has to say. There is a ring of certainty in all His words. Never was there a teacher more positive, if you like to put it so, more dogmatic. We have our views, we cherish our Opinions, we balance arguments and measure probabilities. You never find Jesus doing anything of the kind. You never hear Him talking of His views or His opinions; you never hear Him speaking in our hazy style: "On the whole, considering all the facts of the case, I am inclined to venture the assertion that this or that may turn out to be the explanation of it." If you discovered a new logion in language such as that, you would declare it a forgery beyond doubt. For the style of Jesus, even when dealing with the most profound mysteries of existence, is thus: "Verily, verily, I say unto you." I do not say that He claimed omniscience on earth. He even repudiated it. But what He did assert He asserted with unhesitating decision.
But is it enough to be positive? We all of us know very positive people - popes who claim infallibility, although no Vatican council has voted it them - and we are not inclined to surrender our judgment to them on demand. Do we not often find people to be positive exactly in proportion to the limited range of their knowledge? The less a person knows the more sure he is of everything; while the wider his horizon becomes, the slower and more hesitating he will be in making a distinct assertion.
It is not enough, then, to say that anyone is very positive. We must first face the question as to who it is that speaks to us with this singular decisiveness. I doubt not there are many among us who are perfectly satisfied on that point, who are well assured that Jesus is the very Son of God dwelling ever in the bosom of the Father, who can almost see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
But if it be the case that we have not all reached this position of calm assurance, if the uncertainty and questioning of the age have driven some of us into wondering thoughts about the very being and nature of Christ, how is it possible to take His direct assurance as the settlement of all doubt? We must begin at a more preliminary stage.
Consider the case of the expert, who condescends to leave his advanced studies for a little while, and instruct us in some of the more elementary principles of his science. What a firm grip he has of the subject! With what ease he moves from point to point! His only difficulty is not to go too far, and lead his audience out of their depth. Plainly, he is master of the situation. And when he sits down nothing pleases him better than to be questioned on anything in the lecture. At once he is ready to explain it more fully, and his ex tempore explanation is as learned and as masterly as the set lecture. You can not take him at a disadvantage. You can sit at the feet of such a man with the utmost confidence. Clearly he has a right to speak with authority.
Now is it not clear, when you study the gospel story, that Jesus is an expert in religion, by the side of whom the greatest theologian appears but as an amateur dabbling in a subject too large for him? It may seem almost irreverent to use such a title as "expert" for Jesus Christ; He is so much more. But then He is at least that. Here, surely, we may be all agreed. What is to us, alas! too much a strange subject, one that we neglect for a multitude of minor interests, was to Him a region in which He was perfectly at home. He lived in it and spoke out from it as from the depths of His daily experience.
It is as when a party of travelers climbing some wild and dangerous mountain find themselves enveloped in cloud. All trace of direction is lost. A yawning gulf may be at their feet. But one is well on in advance of the rest. He has reached the ridge and passed. the cloud; and he calls back to the others, "It is all clear here; I can see the way right on to the summit; follow me and you will be safe." His position of advance gives him authority to speak. As we listen to the voice of Jesus coming to us through the clinging mists that blot out the landscapes for us and chill our hearts, we discover that this is a voice from the heights. Is it nothing that Jesus can say, "Follow me! He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness" He, too, is on the mountain above us - how far exalted, perhaps we may not yet see; but, at all events, well in advance - yes, and well in advance of all the world's great thinkers and teachers of religion. Is it nothing that from this high ground He speaks with the voice of sure knowledge and decisive utterance? And then, as I have said, it is not only by His words that He guides us. His person, His life, His character are luminous and illuminating.
Let us see how this conception of truth, as truth is in Jesus, may apply to various regions of thought and life, and consider what answer to the questions that most perplex us may be found in the Jesus of the gospels, in the actual contents of these records. The inquiry is not mystical; it is literary and historical. As such it may not be finally satisfactory to all minds, still it is the path of light.
First, let us look at the region of the practical. The deepest, darkest doubt - a doubt vastly more unsettling than any amount of speculative uncertainty, worse even than what is called religious skepticism, because it cuts at the root of all religion and all goodness - is moral doubt. So long as a man can keep "conscience as the noontide clear," with unhesitating faith in goodness and unwavering determination to pursue it at all hazards, he can never be utterly at sea. All may seem lost, sky and ocean mixed in the fury of tempest; and yet, while the anchor of conscience holds, the vessel will ride the storm. But if this anchor is dragged, if the very fundamental ideas of right and wrong are tossing in confusion, the peril is great indeed. There is absolutely nothing to prevent drifting on to the rocks. It is no longer the eclipse of faith. It is the shipwreck of faith. Beware of that horror of horrors - moral skepticism.
But how is it to be escaped? When we turn from theory to fact, the world, as we see it, does not seem to show that sharp distinction, that impassable gulf, that vast distance as from pole to pole, between good and evil. The two are strangely intermingled. If even a good man looks down into the lower regions of his nature, he may be startled to discover there the lurking possibilities of the crimes of a Borgia. When some one who has been respected universally as a pillar of virtue suddenly falls, or is suddenly found out in some base action, the sight of such unexpected wickedness sends a shock through society, and tempts the world to say that all men are alike; or with the only difference that some sin openly while others hide their misdeeds; that some are honest knaves and the rest but hypocrites.
This miserable cynicism must shrink for very shame in the presence of Jesus Christ. Will anybody venture to read the story of His life and still maintain that there is no reality in goodness? For see what it comes to! If virtue is a myth, if the moral law is an illusion, if there is no essential distinction between good and evil, then there is no essential distinction between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot. And by all the appalling distance from the awful purity of the Savior to the sordid vileness of the traitor, the essential distinction between good and evil is proved to us. If not in St. Francis, if not in John, if in no saint, or martyr, or apostle, still, as the last resort, in Jesus, assuredly, we can see the moral law vindicated. He magnifies this law and makes it honorable. He established the eternal reality of goodness. That truth we may see in Jesus.
The frequency of failure provokes the further question whether life is not altogether a mistake. As some lives are spent, it is difficult to resist that dismal conclusion. There are stained and misshapen lives that appear like spots and blotches in creation, their very existence a blight upon society. Are there not, too, multitudes of lives which, if not thus stamped with offensiveness, yet are no comfort to the livers of them and no blessing to others - poor, withered, doleful lives spent in a round of weary drudgery, with no prospect of relief but by the merciful hand of death? I am afraid it must be admitted there are ways of living that do not seem to make life worth the trouble of lungs in drawing breath, and heart in driving blood to keep them going. It is possible for any of us to live in such a mode-servile in poverty or self-indulgent in luxury. It might be well for all of us occasionally to put the question to ourselves point blank, are we living in a way that is worth all the cost to ourselves and others?
But can anybody ask that question concerning Jesus Christ? To His contemporaries He was a failure, meeting the doom of the enthusiast who braves the conventions of the world, cut off in young manhood, tortured and killed by the death of the vilest criminal. And yet, we know that He did not fail. If ever any life was a success, the life of Jesus was. It was the life which reversed the whole course of history, and laid the foundation of the upward movement of mankind. Life a failure? Apparently so in some instances, as far as we can see in this world; but not the life of the Crucified. And, therefore, we may conclude that just in proportion as we follow Christ our lives, too, will not fail. I do not know what to say of many lives, but looking at it in the light of truth, I am perfectly certain that the Christian life, the life of self-denial and service, cross-bearing and Christ-likeness, is not and can not be a failure. This is as the truth of life is in Jesus.
The same rule applies when we turn to more mysterious regions of speculative inquiry. Questions are raised concerning the nature of Christ, such questions as rent the Church in fierce internal conflicts in the ages of the great Christian fathers. Out of these conflicts came the creeds that were to settle the dogmas of the believer for all subsequent ages. But to many of us these creeds are not final utterances. They affirm, they do not prove, neither do they explain. To some people they only appear to "darken counsel with words without knowledge." It is not thus that we determine any truth of science. Why should we expect to settle theological truth in so preposterous a method of finality? Why should the twentieth century bow down to the fourth century, dumb and submissive, in this the most difficult of questions, and in this alone? Surely, we have learned a more ex¬cellent way. The naturalist is not satisfied to study in old libraries; he examines the objects of nature. It is this inductive method of Bacon that opened the door to science. Is it unreasonable to apply the same method in religion? If we do, the right way to know Christ is not to analyze creeds, it is to make a study of the Jesus of the gospels. What a picture we have there - babe of Bethlehem, boy at Nazareth, carpenter in the workshop, preacher by the lakeside, brother in the home, healer of the sick, victim on the cross, firstborn from the dead! Watch Him as He moves along His brief, strange course. Humblest of men, yet making the highest claims; most modest, yet never confessing to a fault.
A person of dull conscience may defend himself against all fault-finding. As a rule, this unruffled sense of rectitude is exactly proportionate to the torpor of conscience. The awakened conscience is self-accusing. And so it comes about that the holiest man is the most eager to repudiate the title to holiness, that the saint is the first to confess himself a sinner.
But Jesus makes no such confession. He is keenly alive to the evil of sin, and He is unfaltering in the denunciation of hypocrisy. We can not say He is callous and indifferent to evil. Yet He never confesses sin of His own; claiming to forgive sin in others, He always speaks as though there were none in Himself. And His life bears out this personal conviction. Neither is He conscious of sin, nor can anybody detect it in Him. This is the first wonder of His life - the sinlessness of Jesus. In this He is quite alone and apart. How shall we explain it? He gives us His own explanation: "I and my Father are one." Apostles, evangelists, those who watched Him most closely, who knew Him best, give the same explanation when they describe Him as the Son of God. I can see no other adequate explanation of the gospel record than this assertion of the divinity of Christ. This is not merely a dogma of the creeds - it is a truth in Jesus, a truth in the gospels, a truth that shines out of the ancient pages; to my mind and to many minds the only way of accounting for what is recorded there.
Again, it may be that we are opprest with the larger mystery of existence. What is the meaning of this vast, perplexing system of things, in the midst of which we live, which we call universe? Is it but an interminable nexus of forces, or is there mind behind force? Is there God? If so, what is God? The existence of the world points to a cause; the order of the universe suggests a mind; the beauty of nature a soul; the bountifulness of life a heart. And yet, when we have reached these conclusions, Mill's terrible indictment of nature confronts us. Apparently all is not wise and good. Earthquakes, famine, flood, plague - what are these?
But here is the dilemma - if there is no God, in the end we must go back to chance, and chaos is the parent of all things. Evolution introduces an orderly process, but it is only a process, a method, not a cause. Evolution inspired by God is a sublime theory of creation. Evolution without God is but a product of chance. Then even with this theory we are forced back on something like the daring epicurean notion so brilliantly set forth by the Roman poet Lucretius - a fortuitous concourse of atoms, falling, as he had it, through space, and jostling one another incessantly in the vast cascade of them till they ultimately chance to fall into a condition of order. If that be true, then Jesus Christ is the result of such a chance, a product of blind and purposeless evolution - His life but as one speck of foam flung up from the dark ocean of existence.
And further, if there is no mind in the universe, if the brain secretes thought and the liver secretes bile, then we must come to this wild and desperate conclusion that the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the prodigal son are byproducts of certain chance combinations of phosphates and nitrates in the brain of an organism to which we misleadingly attach the greatest of names. It is abhorrent to state such a conclusion; yet we must be honest; we must be consistent. There is no alternative. This is the conclusion to which we must be driven on the materialistic hypothesis.
Philosophers have described animals as automatons, and there are men whose sheer animalism of existence encourages the hypothesis. These are the excuses for materialism. But it breaks down utterly in the presence of Jesus. The credulity of the Christian is as nothing to the credulity of the materialist who can believe that all we read in the gospel story is but a fine and vaporous emanation of chemical elements. The being of God and the existence of mind, of soul, of spirit, are vindicated by the very being of Jesus. These truths are to be seen in Him.
There is one more question to which I wish to apply this solvent of the truth that is found in the gospels, the truth as it is in Jesus - the question of a future life. We must all feel that much of what is said on this subject will not bear a very close scrutiny. There are times when we can not be satisfied with conventional notions. When we stand by the open grave of a very dear friend, or when the doctor has warned us that we should do well to put our affairs in order, as the summons may come to us at any moment; when it has become clear that close at hand "the shadow sits and waits for us," then, in these moments of intense reality, we can not be satisfied with the flowers of hymnology and pulpit eloquence, and we ask in grim earnest Job's straight question: "If a man die shall he live again?"
What is Christ's answer to that pregnant question? It is a very remarkable answer - quite one by itself - reticent, yet clear and positive. Jesus paints no fancy pictures of elysian fields where happy souls walk in meads of asphodel; He draws no plan of a heavenly city with gates of pearl and streets of gold. To the curiosity that hungers for information about the forms and manners of the life beyond He is perfectly silent. But to the deeper hunger for life after death He is most reassuring. He is as positive on this subject as on any other. His words are few, but they are quite clear and absolutely unwavering. While we halt and hesitate, and falter and tremble, before the mystery of death, He, above our mists, standing there in the light, is certain. Surely, this means much!
What can be more decisive than such words as these: ?He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live?; "in my Father's house are many places of rest. If it were not so I would have told you." I do not know any statement of the case more exact and true than that in Richard Baxter"s most honest hymn:
My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim;
But 'tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him.
And here we have a further confirmation beyond the words and direct teaching of Jesus - His own resurrection. Jesus was raised up from the dead; He came back from beyond the shadows - the first-born among many brethren. That is in the record of the gospels. The very existence of the Church - itself a resurrection after the despair of Calvary - is witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and that in turn is witness to the life eternal.
To any, then, who may be distrest by the wild, free questions of our day; to any who may be bewildered by the hosts of conflicting voices each offering its own reply, this is one way of life and guidance. Study the gospels. Come to a first-hand knowledge of Jesus. Learn of Him. Consider what a Master of His subject He is, how clear His vision, how serene His assurance, how positive His utterance, how real His life! All else may waver; mists may gather round the cherished convictions of childhood. Jesus abides, the light of the world and the light of the ages. In Him shall we see light.
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