Wednesday, March 30

Terri's Fight

Two important but oft neglected aspects of Terri Schiavo's public torture and execution are highlighted by my friends Douglas Phillips and Joseph Farah. Both are disturbing but very insightful.

The Crooked Road

Our society did not just suddenly stumble onto the Terri Schiavo case. The sordid specter of a government resolutely condemning an innocent citizen to death by starvation and dehydration is the end result of a very long and tortured process. Judge George Greer did not concoct such a brazen and perverse wickedness all on his own.

The ever insightful Ben House has reviewed a chilling book that attempts to trace at least part of that long and crooked road. It makes for difficult but necessary reading:

I like to read, and I especially enjoy reading history. Yet sometimes reading is a grim burden. There are those books, subjects, and studies, which fulfill an intellectual curiosity, but depress the spirit. All centuries and eras have their dark clouds, but the Twentieth Century was especially known for human horrors and evils. From concentration camps to gulags, from Nazis to Communists, from aerial bombing to genocide, the means and extent of the human capacity for evil seemed boundless in the last century. Technology and human accomplishments seemed to herald a golden age in 1900. The golden age was soon mired up in the trenches of World War I, the tramping feet of soldiers in the dark valley of World War II, and the iron and bamboo curtains of Communism lasting throughout much of the century.

The Christian teacher and writer must confront these evils. Like Dante’s journey through the Inferno, he must descend from depth to depth examining the evidences and artifacts of human depravity practiced by wicked regimes. We are compelled to better understand what turned a Catholic choirboy and an Orthodox seminary student into Hitler and Stalin. And they did not act alone, so we have to figure what dynamics created Goebbels and Himmler, Beria and Molotov. What sycophantic forces create legions of immoral monsters to surround such men as Hitler and Stalin? We also have to read the accounts of those who suffered. The victims, immortalized in the writings of Solzhenitsyn and the diaries of Anne Frank, must be remembered. Human suffering, not a comfortable subject, must be remembered by those who live in comfort. Yes, even the good guys, like the United States and Great Britain, have their dark secrets. Aspects of the Boer War waged by Great Britain and racial atrocities in America cannot be ignored just because they dint our pristine armor.

Grim books must be read. One such recent reading of mine was From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). This book, sober and academic, focused on root causes of the Holocaust. It examined ideas, academic communities, intellectual ponderings, arcane journal studies, and obscure (to us now) scientific, political, and ethical trends among the educated elite. This survey of German thought in the late 1800s and early 1900s would be useful only to academic specialists (meaning, Ph.D. candidates in search of a minor point) were it not for the sequel to the story. The story itself is the initial impact of Darwinian thought on issues of ethics and morality. Darwin’s works caused an awakening, an enlightenment, for many found a liberation in Darwinism from the restraints of the older Christian-natural law consensus. The sequel was the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler in the 1930s. The issue is this: Was their a connection between the student in the early 1900s reading Darwin and asking, “How should we then live?” and his son attending a rally at Nuremberg thirty years later?

Linking your enemies to Hitler is an overused and much abused tactic. I have seen pictures of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, presented by their enemies, showing them caught in the midst of a wave looking like they were giving Nazi salutes. Any position, any viewpoint, any program can be discredited by linking it to Nazism. Opponents to Darwin in our day, whether committed Creationists or some form of Intelligent Design supporters, have frequently been dismissed out of court for lacking scientific credentials and intellectual seriousness. Meaning, if you doubt Darwinism, you are by definition stupid. (Dr. Richard Weikart, by the way, is an associate professor of history at California State University, but that is irrelevant if Darwin is questioned.) What is the value in this debate of using the Hitler card?

First, we need to note where we are in the long-term battle between proponents of evolution and believers in some form of creation. The battle of Yorktown took place two years before the Treaty of Paris was signed. Likewise opponents of evolution have won some decisive victories, even though the war continues. Surely, there have been hard fought skirmishes along the way. Chesterton and Spencer debated in England over a century ago. William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow duked it out in Dayton, Tennessee in the 1920s. Science faculties fought state legislatures, clergymen railed against scientists, parents protested against textbooks, and so on it went. We so often assume the Darwinists have won the day. Public school textbooks tow the party line, regardless of what stickers are affixed to the book or what verbal tricks are used to tone down the language. College professors hold to Darwinism with the tenacity of a medieval monk reciting his prayers. Endless scientific documentaries, especially those featuring animals, regale us with evolutionary dogma. Even most Christian colleges blush when a freshman gullibly mentions 6-day creation in mixed (that is, secular and Christian) company. We know the catechism question: “What do all credible, educated scientists believe” Answer: “Evolution is our god and Darwin is his prophet.”

Yet, we as Christians do not notice that the enemy has pulled behind its academic Maginot Line and made concessions on the implications of Darwinism to ethics and public policy. The biology professor might not allow for any objections to Darwinism inside the confines of his classroom. But don’t take the biology book to sociology class or to political science class or to ethics class. Like a body part in a Picasso painting, Darwinism is not to be attached to the rest of the body of human thought in a rational traditional way. This refusal to apply Darwinism to all of life was not always the case. First it was necessary that the university be replaced by the multiversity.

Darwinism was dangerous in the day of the university. When Ernst Haeckel or Herbert Spencer read Darwin, their minds—still a product of a fading Christian consensus—adhered to a unity of truth. Therefore, men sought for a university education, a universal search for truth, a unifying principle of reality. For this reason, many people were born again upon accepting Darwin. Darwin offered not just biology, but philosophy, a worldview. At last an alternative to Christianity was offered. Darwin’s book was a best seller to a world longing for liberation. Darwin’s early disciples grasped the implications of his gospel quite quickly.

Sparks were flying in the academic circles, especially in Germany. Germany was brimming with brilliant minds and a nationalistic will-to-power. The higher critics were leading the world in theological studies, leading even the most conservative branches of Christian churches to send its best to Germany to study theology. Some of these same higher critical were furiously undermining the foundations of Christianity. “God is on life-support and the Bible contains errors” was proclaimed in the theology department, while across the walkway in the science department, similarities were noted between the embryos of frogs and the students’ baby brothers.

There was a German propensity for producing the best, for accentuating the finest. This resulted in amazing technology and craftsmanship, and when this tendency wedded science and social policy, the proto-Third Reich was born in the minds of men. But for the time, it was only words and paper competing against the older ethic, once carved on stone. A new science, in a new country, with a new worldview created the genesis of a new ethics and a new version of what constitutes a healthy society. We are all bothered by the sufferings and miseries of the incurably ill, the elderly, the infirm, and the hopelessly insane. They are inconvenient. They tie us down. They do not produce anything for the common welfare. The new ethic suggested that it was more moral to dispose of such people than to be inconvenienced. The older Genesis account proclaimed man made in God’s image; the new Genesis divided man into categories of fit and unfit.

Slower, sicker, weaker animals die in the pack. Either they are killed as prey or they are unable to kill prey. This benefits the herd or the pack, and so surely benefits the tribe. Of course, all this was academic debate: The meanderings of scholars were loosed upon the pages of a journal or in the company of his fellows at conferences. Still iron sharpens iron. One scholar influenced another. Each book sparked another flurry of articles. Each lecture raised questions of further implications and applications. Just the merry life of professors—debating and arguing—and passing on to their students the findings of their research.

World War I upset many of these scholars. Although in one sense, the killing of thousands by the incessant machine gunning and poison gas might seem just another phase of the fit eliminating the unfit, still the war was troublesome. As Weikart says, “… what they found objectionable about modern wars was that the wrong people were being killed—the strong and the healthy rather than the weak and sickly." Merely disposing of useless individuals and inferior races was helpful, but white Europeans slaughtering one another was unacceptable. Then out of the ashes, the destruction, and despair of Germany’s defeat, Hitler arose. Hitler was not a scholar, although he was not stupid either. Like many of us, he picked up the major parts of his worldview second and third-hand. Whether he ever read Darwin or Darwin’s pupils is irrelevant. Ideas have consequences and intellectuals change nations and arcane philosophies translate into political agendas. Many followers of Darwin opposed Hitler and some died under his regime. Still as Weikart points out, “No matter how crooked the road from Darwin to Hitler, clearly Darwinism and eugenics smoothed the path for Nazi ideology, especially for the Nazi stress on expansion, war, racial struggle, and racial extermination.”

This crooked road wound through the university. Thankfully, for a season, that institution no longer exists. Fragmentation of reality has replaced universal truth, and multiversities have replaced universities. Just suggest to your biology professor that our race (any race) is superior. Propose to your political science professor that we purify the land. “Don’t you dare apply Darwinism to politics,” they will angrily reply. Did you forget that politics and religion don’t mix?

Yes, we still have our expendables. Aborted children are dispensed with by denying them the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The sick and mentally incapable are at risk in our nation. The ethics of the university campus still reach the grammar school classrooms all too quickly. Yet, the Darwinists, who are many in number, are tightlipped when it comes to ethics. It is absurd to link the truth of “Survival of the Fittest” with horrors of the Third Reich. Their silence about the implications of Darwinism says too much.

Richard Weikart’s book is filled with many brilliant insights, quotes, and references. Scholars out there, like Weikart, are doing in academic circles what bloggers are doing to the media. This is not pleasant reading. This is not the delightful read to have at the bedside. Not a lot of people will read this book. But for those of us who teach, who preach, and who pound away at our computers, this is a book we need to know.

Sunday, March 27

Tolkien and the Easter Victory

At the end of The Return of the King, following the defeat of all the powers of evil, J.R.R. Tolkien records this remarkable scene:

The shadow departed, and the Sun was unveiled, and light leaped forth; and the waters of the Anduin shown like silver, and in all the houses of the City men sang for the joy that welled up in their hearts from what source they could not tell. And before the Sun had fallen far from the noon out of the East there came a great Eagle flying, and he bore tidings beyond hope from the Lords of the West, crying:

Sing now, ye people of the Tower of Anor,
for the Realm of Sauron is ended for ever,
and the Dark Tower is thrown down.

Sing and rejoice, ye people of the Tower of Guard,
for your watch hath not been in vain,
and the Black Gate is broken,
and your King hath passed through,
and he is victorious.

Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.
Sing all ye people!

And all the people sang in all the ways of the City. The days that followed were golden.

Of course, Tolkien steadfastly refused to admit that his epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was an allegory of the Gospel. But he did admit that it was "at least akin to the Gospel." Thus, may Gondor's Victory Song be at least akin to our own victory song this Easter.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Sing all ye people, for your King shall come again--and He shall make all things new!

Friday, March 25

The Legacy of Rome

Following in the footsteps of the great Augustine of Hippo, Ben House has not only versified the profound notions of historical antithesis and divine providence, he has done so on the occasion of Holy Week (this was an important "aesthetical and theological" discipline that Augustine diligently practiced throughout his long and fruitful career). Thus, Ben's wonderful new composition is altogether "Christian and Classical" in every sense of that phrase:

If Romans of the past ages could gather to consider and debate
Whose act of surviving genius would through future centuries make them great,
What monument of their millennium would be left to remember,
From the fire that once blazed, would there be an most distinguishable ember?

Scipio and Caesar would recount their Legions’ famed iron wrought victories
That bent submissive Carthaginian, Celt, Greek, and Gaul to bend their proud knees,
Bowed heads gave their bodies in sacrifice to the wisdom and swords of Rome,
Ruling in might the seas and shores of the Mediterranean alone.

Virgil, Ovid, and Horace, men of letters, would contest their well versed words,
Surviving the empire, spreading to lands far beyond by translating birds.
Octavian’s claim—Pax Romana—assuring his ascent to deity,
A faithful nephew, spreading Rome’s empiric rule beyond the shores and sea.

A host of successors, often mean conniving men of lesser talent,
Justly, proudly pleased at having attained the Roman-Byzantine balance,
Would boast of having suspended the sun’s light against approaching night.
But some saw the later Caesars as the lesser powers of Roman might.

The older fathers, men of the republic’s early days, who foretold the fate,
Would point to the foundations and laws and glories that made Italy great.
Horatious and Regulus, and others like them, who shed blood of self and foe,
Would have themselves and the brave dead who fought for Rome honored for us to know.

Architect and engineer would debate which had the better claim,
As would senators, gladiators, and governors recalling their fame.
What legacy stands midst crumbling aqueducts and broken statuary?
What has stood the centuries that moderns could neither surpass nor bury?

Some cold demented man of tortured mind created Rome greatest glory,
Himself forgotten, yet having devised judgment so perfect and gory.
The legacy of Rome that affixes the empire’s greatest position
Was when Rome blindly saved the evil world by devising crucifixion.

A Good Friday Hymn

In a few hours our congregation will gather for a Good Friday service. We will sing a remarkable hymn--with new music written by Gregory Wilbur set to an old poem written by John Donne. I am profoundly grateful for both servants of the Man of Sorrows--one from, to use ecclesiatical terminology, the contemporary "Church Militant" and the other from the eternal "Church Triumphant." Herein is our Good News:

Will you forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Will you forgive that sin through which I run
And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When You are done,
You are not done
I have more.

Will you forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin and made my sin their door?

Will you forgive that sin that I did shun
A year or two but wallowed in a score?

When Your are done
You are not done
I have more.

I have a sin of fear that when I’ve spun
My last thread I shall perish on the shore.

Swear by Thyself, that a my death Your Son

Shall shine as He shines now and here-to-fore.

Having done that,
You are done,
And I fear no more.

Wednesday, March 23

Wounded Knee Update

I've just completed my second half marathon of the year--I ran the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham the day before I left for my Jakarta trip and then I ran the Tom King Half Marathon in Nashville this past weekend. In both races I was able to crank out personal record times, thank the Lord. I am due to run a couple of 5K races in the next couple of weeks--along with lots of hours of training day in and day out--and then comes the "big one," the Country Music Marathon here in Nashville. Once again, I will be raising funds for the vital cancer research at St. Jude Children's Hospital. If you'd like to make a pledge, you can do so online at my St. Jude sponsor site. With the diagnosis of a dear friend with cancer just a few weeks ago and the continuing battle against the dread disease by one of my students here in Franklin and two of my correspondence students in New York, I am more committed to this cause and this work than ever before.

My goal is to raise $5000 during 2005--running in six big races: the two that I've already done plus the Country Music Marathon, the RC Cola/Moon Pie 10 Miler, the Chicago Marathon, and the St. Jude Marathon.

The reason I picked St. Jude as the focus of my fundraising efforts is simple to explain: this children's charity hospital in Memphis is one of the most remarkable and effective medical research institutions anywhere in the world. St. Jude has treated children from across the United States and from more than 70 foreign countries. And yet ability to pay is never an issue because St. Jude is the only pediatric research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. Not one penny! Not ever! Zip! Zilch! Nada!

The treatment of children and the onging research at St. Jude includes work in bone marrow transplantation, chemotherapy, the biochemistry of normal and cancerous cells, radiation treatment, blood diseases, resistance to therapy, viruses, hereditary diseases, infectious diseases, and psychological effects of catastrophic illnesses. Vital work, indeed. And again, always made available to families regardless of their financial means.

Obviously, this kind of care is very expensive. Won't you help me support the remarkable ministry of St. Jude to children and families battling cancer? Donate now and come back to visit my St. Jude sponsor site often. Learn how my effort to help find cures and save lives is going. Oh yes, and do pray for my weary old knees to hold up!

Tuesday, March 22

Ben and Louise

Recently, my good friend and frequent correspondent, Ben House, attended a lecture. It was not just any lecture though. It was a lecture on poetry. It was not just any lecture on poetry though. It was a lecture on poetry by one of the foremost literary exponents of our age. It was, in other words, a real event! He explains:

Only twelve percent of adult Americans read poetry, according to a recent statistic. Several of my students, my eleven year old son, and I fit into an even smaller minority: The number of Americans who travel three hours one way on a rainy night to hear a poetry lecture. The occasion was a lecture series called “Poetry and the City” sponsored by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. The lecturer was Dr. Louise Cowan.

It was the desire to see and hear Dr. Cowan that drew my students and me from Texarkana to Dallas. Dr. Cowan holds the Louise Cowan Chair of Literature at the University of Dallas and she is a key figure in the founding of the Dallas Institute’s Teachers Academy. She received a doctorate from Vanderbilt University and is the author of many articles on literary criticism and two volumes on Southern literature, and she edited or co edited several other volumes on literature for both scholars and general readers. Her credentials and scholarly accomplishments are impressive, but that alone would not have drawn a homebody like me out so far and late into the night. Louise Cowan is one of the most important literary scholars of our time. Now in her late eighties, Dr. Cowan is still lecturing, teaching, and inspiring students in the field of literature. Dr. Cowan is important because of her role in the Southern Literary Renaissance as both scholar and participant, her understanding of literature and scholarly accomplishments in that field, and her achievements as a teacher.

First, Louise Cowan has played a vital part in the Southern Literary Renaissance, which has had a major impact on American literature since the 1920s. The geographical center of this literary renaissance was Vanderbilt University. In the 1920s and 30s, a number of young scholars developed a literary community in the Nashville area that spawned dozens of books of poetry, fiction, literary criticism, politics, and history. From this same circle of writers came at least three major movements that impacted literature and culture. These American Southern writers in several ways resembled the Inklings of England, which was the literary group including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other friends. These Southerners shared a common heritage and intellectual excitement about applying that heritage to the modern world. Lots of writers participated in the movements emanating out of Vanderbilt University, but four poets were the key members of the original group. They were John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. As young men, they gathered together on Saturday nights to read and critique their poems and discuss literature, philosophy, and other topics. Soon they began to publish a literary magazine called The Fugitive and they came to be known as the Fugitive Poets. All four men went on to successful careers in writing and teaching literature. By the late 1920s, feeling that Southern culture, the agrarian values of rural America, and the importance of family and faith were all under attack, they responded by contributing articles to I’ll Take My Stand. This book, made up of essays by twelve Southerners, is a classic work on localized politics, heritage and culture, and the importance of the traditional agrarian community. The essays were attacked in their day by critics now forgotten, but I’ll Take My Stand has remained in print.

Louise Cowan wrote her doctrinal dissertation on the Fugitive Poets, titled The Fugitive Group: A Literary History. This study contains a history of the movement, biographical sketches of the poets, and literary analyses of their poetry. Dr. Cowan also wrote a book called The Southern Critics, which introduces and examines the literary criticism of the Vanderbilt literary circle. Other key writers in the Southern Renaissance include Flannery O’Connor, Caroline Gordon, and William Faulkner, who have all been subjects of Dr. Cowan’s studies.

While Southern writers do not fit into a nice neat mold, they do seem to share more than just upbringing in the South. A sense of geography and history, an attachment to the agrarian community, and a respect for older codes and truths—what William Faulkner called the “old verities”—tie the writings of these Southerners together. In her book The Southern Critics, Dr. Cowan wrote, “…the Fugitives learned that they were gentlemen, Christians, and—if the egalitarian world forced them to admit it—clearly aristocratic, at least in their attitude toward literature, education, and culture.” She goes on to say, “Their discipline was poetry; their mode of study was the apprehension of the poetic form; their outlook was classical and Christian; their concern was the welfare of human culture, to the extent that it could be furthered through literature.”

Dr. Cowan is an authority on Southern literature. She learned Southern literature directly from the Fugitive-Agrarians. She was a colleague of such renowned Southern thinkers as novelist Caroline Gordon, who Dr. Cowan brought to the University of Dallas as a teacher when Ms. Gordon was 78, and scholar Mel Bradford, whose writings on Southern literature and history are quite brilliant. In Dr. Cowan’s lecture, she quoted Davidson, Ransom, and Tate freely and often. Even though the Fugitive-Agrarians lived until the latter half of the Twentieth Century, many of their ideas and books are neglected. Donald Davidson, for example, was an excellent poet, yet his poems rarely appear in anthologies. Perhaps it may not be politically correct to reference these Southern authors in some circles, but their achievements are still being heralded by Dr. Cowan and her students.

I had a second reason for wanting to hear Dr. Cowan. Not only has she studied Southern literature extensively, but also she has developed literary approaches to all genres of literature. Much of her work in the area of literary genres can be found in a series of books she has edited and contributed to called Studies in Genre. The three volumes available in this series are The Epic Cosmos, The Terrain of Comedy, and The Tragic Abyss, with a fourth volume on lyric poetry remaining to be finished. These genre studies by Dr. Cowan and others are quite scholarly and extensive. Her essay in The Epic Cosmos, titled “The Epic as Cosmopoesis,” is one of the most brilliant, yet difficult, writings I have ever read. I read it each time when I am teach Homer and Virgil, with the hope and expectation that each new reading will deepen my understanding of both epic literature and this essay.

In another key work on literature, titled An Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to the Books You Always Wanted to Read, Dr. Cowan and Os Guinness compiled short introductory essays written by themselves and others on literary classics. These essays, which are more than summaries of the works, are much more accessible and understandable for students and reference purposes. In fact, An Invitation to the Classics is one of my most often used books. The contributors to the volume occupy literature positions in key universities across the country, and many of them are Dr. Cowan’s former students. Each selection takes a major classic piece of literature and analyzes the main themes and contents and provides biographical or historical information about the author and the time period of the writing. My literature lectures and discussions in class are filled with my borrowings from this book. Dr. Cowan’s introductory essay gives a useful description of what makes a book a classic.

My favorite personal experience in teaching in a Classical Christian school has been discovering literary classics I either had never read or had never read deeply. Since I began teaching in a classical Christian school, I have read more and better books and read and taught them in a deeper sense than I ever did in college, in graduate school, or in teaching in public school. Homer and Milton, Shakespeare and Melville, and other great writers are unsettling and unsatisfying. When you finish their works, you want to start over and read them again. And you want to read what others have noticed and observed about these classics. Since Dr. Cowan is so well versed in literary classics, listening to her is quite a thrill. She is not simply a scholar who points details the reader has missed. She is a romancer of the classics. Her lifelong love of great literature is quite contagious.

This leads to the third reason I wanted to see Dr. Cowan. She is a great teacher. Her students have transplanted her approach to teaching literature to schools and colleges across the land. Many of them are quite capable scholars and authors themselves. As Dr. Glenn Arbery has said, “Directly or indirectly, her ideas have influenced thousands of undergraduates, graduate students, and secondary school teachers, as well as tens of thousands of their students.” Most of my gleaning from Dr. Cowan’s insights has been from reading her books, listening to a few taped tapes, and attending a couple of lectures, yet, thankfully, I am one of those secondary school teachers who has been able to echo her insights and hopefully imitate her enthusiasm in my classroom.

In her essay, “The Importance of the Classics,” Dr. Cowan describes how her study of Hamlet reawakened her understanding of Christianity in Shakespeare’s writings and then her study of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov led to her “rediscovery of Christ in His fullness.” Literature is a great means of expounding a Christian worldview. Not only are there a host of great Christian writers—ranging from St. Augustine to Flannery O’Connor—but also the themes of great literature invariably reflect Christian issues. Not all literature professors see or apply this and not all approaches to literature are open to Christian interpretations. But God is gracious, both to individuals and to whole cultures. Isn’t it amazing that in a world so often described as post-Christian, post-modern, skeptical, and unbelieving that God not only raised up a C.S. Lewis and a J.R.R. Tolkien in Britain, but He has raised up whole ranks of literary scholars in our age, including Dr. Louise Cowan.


My latest tech-fascination is podcasting. It is the best thing since blogging—which was the best thing since OSX, which was the best thing since sliced bread! I know. I know. I’ve had more than one person tell me that my tinkering with these tech-tools is precisely why my website and even my blog remain so woefully outdated—no perma-links, no RSS feed, no photo-embedding, no product shopping cart, no MP3 downloads, etc. Even my photo just to the left here is two years and fifty-lost-pounds out of date! But, podcasting is so flat-out-cool that it just may be enough to get me to actually redesign my site and employ some of these geek toys/tools.

At its most basic level podcasting is little more than posting MP3 audio-files to a website that can then be downloaded on command or even subscribed to with an RSS feed. What is cool is that there are now several podcasting software packages designed to automatically dump those files into iTunes and/or onto an iPod so that essentially you can have niche audio programming available any time you want it. Think TiVo for radio—but without the radio or the TiVo! It’s like internet radio—but without the need for streaming files, broadcast fees, broadband trafficking, or massive broadcast server space. It is so simple—and yet such a huge leap forward in communications technology. It is also an extraordinary opportunity for the proclamation of the Gospel. Discover the wildly varied world of niche broadcasting at the remarkable site. Check out the EnduranceRadio broadcasts for runners and triathaloners (they've got new interviews with Jeff Galloway and Jon Bingham) or visit the guys from the band Downhere--they've already got their first podcast up and running with an RSS feed and all! I'll try to get a full list of my favorite podcasts up tomorrow. But, you'll want to be exploring this ever-expanding universe yourself.

I am already planning some experiments with some podcasting content of my own. I’m going to produce a daily “today in history” segment. And I am going to edit down some of my sermons and lectures to fit into a 30-minute format. Once I get the files digitized, I’ll post them to the website and see how many iPods we can get cranking!

In Memoriam: Dr. Edmund P. Clowney

Yesterday, Westminster Theological Seminary's first president and one of the most gifted communicators I have ever heard, Edmund P. Clowney, went to sleep in Charlottesville, Virginia and woke up in Heaven. He was 87 years young.

Dr. Clowney was a friend, a mentor, and a generous teacher to me and to several generations of Christian leaders. I am humbled and blessed just to have known him.

According to the official obituary posted on the Westminster Seminary website, Dr. Clowney was born in Philadelphia in 1917, received his B.A. from Wheaton College in 1939, a Th. B. from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1942, an S.T.M from Yale University Divinity School in 1944, and a D.D. from Wheaton College in 1966. Ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, he served as pastor of several churches from 1942 to 1946 and was then invited to become assistant professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1952. He became that institution’s first president in 1966, and remained there until 1984, when he took a post as theologian-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1990 Ed and Jean moved to Escondido, California, where Dr. Clowney was adjunct professor at Westminster Seminary California. In 2001, he took a full-time position as associate pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Houston, Texas. After two years, he moved back to Charlottesville, where he once again became part-time theologian-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church. He remained in this role until his death. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jean Wright Clowney; by his five children: David Clowney, Deborah Weininger, Paul Clowney, Rebecca Jones, and Anne Foreman; by his twenty-one grandchildren; and by his eleven great grandchildren.

Apart from all the facts and stats, anyone who knew him would tell you that Dr. Clowney was a compassionate counselor; a devoted servant of Jesus Christ, His Word, and His church; a peacemaker; and a true visionary. He dreamed for Christ’s kingdom and was instrumental in the birth or furtherance of such ministries as the Reformed Theological Seminary in Aix-en-Provence, France; Westminster Seminary California; Trinity Church, Charlottesville; the Lausanne Conference; InterVarsity ministries, both in the United States and in England; and “The Westminster Ministerial Institute,” an inner-city training program for pastors in Philadelphia, out of which the Lord developed the Center for Urban Theological Studies. He also had a life-long interest in children’s Christian education materials.

Dr. Clowney will be remembered first and formost as a preacher, perhaps the most gifted proponent and practitioner of redemptive-historical preaching of this generation. He was unique in his ability to pick up the threads of redemptive history and to weave a rich expositional tapestry that brought Christ in all his perfections and glory before God’s people so that they were drawn to love and worship the Redeemer.

His writing displays the great theme of his life, namely Christ’s presence in the whole of Scripture and His present work in the church. His books include Preaching and Biblical Theology, Called to the Ministry, Christian Meditation, Doctrine of the Church, The Message of I Peter, The Unfolding Mystery, and Preaching Christ in all of Scripture. Some of these titles have been translated for the benefit of the worldwide church. His last book, How Christ Transforms the Ten Commandments, was accepted by his publisher only days before his death.

Dr. Clowney left behind a legacy not only of written books and articles, but a great number of sermons and lectures, as well as magazine columns such as the humor column “Eutychus and His Pin” for Christianity Today and Bible studies for TableTalk. His sense of humor and his love for people left a mark wherever he went. In the last week of his life, one attending nurse, laughing as she left his room, exclaimed, “What a sweet man!” Those who knew and loved him would agree. His tender-hearted encouragement and wisdom will be greatly missed, but his work will be established by his Master who has now welcomed him with those stunning words of grace: “Well-done, good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord!”

Friday, March 18

Francis Schaeffer and L'Abri

Fifty years ago this month, Francis and Edith Schaeffer founded a little ministry high in the Swiss Alps called L'Abri. It was a work that would ultimately, by God's grace, transform the Evangelical world--and it was a work that would ultimately, likewise by God's grace transform me.

I remember only too well the first time I met Francis Schaeffer.

I was puttering around in one of my favorite used bookstores--on Locust Street, just a couple of blocks from the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis. The cathedral's magnificent altarpiece and Caen-carved reredos--soaring nearly forty feet above the choir and stretching across the entire breadth of the nave--draws me like a magnet whenever I am in the city. The matching narthex and bell tower has always inspired me--a vivid reminder to me of the remarkable flowering of creativity and beauty that the Gospel has always provoked through the ages.

Just out of sight of the great Eastern pinnacle is a little row of quirky stores and businesses. There are a couple of musty antique dealers, a disreputable-looking chili restaurant, a jaunty coffee shop, a bizarre boutique specializing in platform shoes from the seventies, and of course, the bookstore--stocking a rather eccentric jumble of old magazines, cheap paperbacks, and fine first editions arranged in no apparent order.

I had just discovered a good hardback copy of Scott's Ivanhoe and a wonderful turn-of-the-century pocket edition of Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture--both for less than the cost of a new paperback copy--when I rounded a corner and bumped into Dr. Schaeffer. Literally.

I had been reading his books since the late sixties and looked to him as my spiritual and intellectual mentor. Not only did he express his orthodox Reformed faith in a clear and thoughtful fashion, his appreciation for the great heritage of Christendom's art, music, and ideas and his commitment to practical justice and true spirituality made him beacon light of hope to me. In 1948, he had gone to serve as an evangelist in the Swiss Alps just below Villars. Seven years later, frustrated by the strictures of the rather conventional approach to ministry he had been practicing, he established a new and unique outreach in his little chalet: he and his family would become hosts, apologists, teachers, mentors, and friends to whoever might find their way to his door.

Over the years, literally thousands of students, skeptics, and searchers found their way to that door. Schaeffer named the ministry L'Abri--a French word meaning shelter--an apt description for the function it served to the rootless generation of the Cold War era. It had always seemed to me that L'Abri was precisely the kind of witness that the church at the end of the twentieth century--and at the beginning of the twenty-first--desperately needed.

I'd like to say that at that moment, as I stood face to face with my hero, I was able to articulate my appreciation for all that he had done for my faith and my walk with Christ. I'd like to say that I was able to express my gratitude and then perhaps strike up a stimulating conversation about, say, epistemological self-consciousness. I'd like to say that as the opportunity that providence had afforded dawned on me I was able to think of all the questions that I'd always wanted answered. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Instead, the first thought that sprang into my mind was: "Oh my, he's short!"

My second thought was: "What a haircut!"

My third thought was: "And what's the deal with the knickers?"

In shock, I realized that I couldn't think of a single intelligent thing to say. I had fallen epistemologically unconscious.

Evidently, Dr. Schaeffer could read the awkward consternation in my eyes. He just chuckled, introduced himself to me, and struck up a conversation. Amidst my embarrassed bumfuddlement he was cheerfully gracious and kind. He commended me on my selections and then showed me a couple of other books he thought I might like--a fine old hardback copy of Henry Van Til's The Calvinistic Concept of Culture and a rare edition of Philip Schaff's The Principle of Protestantism.

Here was one of the brightest minds of our generation giving his time and attentions to a gawky young Christian who couldn't even string together a coherent sentence. I later discovered that this was typical of him. Though he was often passionate, stubborn, and irascible, his life was suffused with a clear sense of calling--a calling to serve others. He demonstrated that calling on a daily basis--not just through heroic feats of sacrifice but through the quiet virtue of ordinary kindness. He believed that the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was best portrayed in the beauty of caring human relationships. And so he listened. He cared. He gave. He put into motion Christ's tender mercies through the simplest acts of humble service.

I came away from that first brief encounter with Dr. Schaeffer with an entirely new understanding of Biblical mercy. With a servant's heart, he treated me as if I mattered. He treated me the way we are all to treat one another. Later when I visited L'Abri or ran across him at conferences, he actually remembered me. He was faithful to correspond with me. He demonstrated in both word and deed that he really did practice what he preached: there are "no little people."

For all his books, for his various film series, for his many taped lectures, and for the ongoing work of L'Abri--now in many locations around the world--I am deeply grateful. But, it will always be that afternoon in St. Louis--and those personal connections in the years that followed--that will serve as the authentication for all the rest. Another of my mentors, Bill Lane always used to say, "When God gives gifts to the church He always wraps them in people." Thus, it will always be for Dr. Schaeffer himself, that I am most grateful.

Thursday, March 17

St. Patrick's Day and Chalmers

The great Scottish pastor, social reformer, educator, author, and scientist Thomas Chalmers was born on March 17, 1780 at Anstruther on the Fife. He always reveled in the fact that his birthday was St. Patrick's Day--and for good reason.

His father was a prosperous businessman in the town and Thomas grew up as the sixth in a large family of fourteen children—he had eight brothers and five sisters. Showing early signs of prodigy, at the age of three, he went to the local parish school to learn the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. His parents were people of strong Calvinist conviction and keen that their family should grow up to bear witness to a lively and relevant Christianity. Piety and intellectual rigor marked their daily lives.

Before he was twelve, he had sufficiently mastered language, literary, and philosophical skills that he was recommended to advance his studies at the University of St Andrews. His brother, William, who was just thirteen, accompanied him. At the time, Thomas was the second-youngest student at St Andrews and widely recognized as a student with extraordinary promise. Although a great part of his time in the first two sessions at the university were apparently occupied in boyish amusements, such as golf, soccer, and hand-ball—in which he was remarkably expert, owing to his being left-handed—he had already begun to demonstrate the great intellectual power which was to be one of his chief characteristics throughout adult life. For mathematics he developed special enthusiasm and to its study he gave himself with great energy and dedication. Ethics and politics were also themes of special interest to him as he sought to integrate his life and faith with the evident woes of the world around him.

In 1795, now fifteen years-old, he sensed a call into the ministry—though as yet still quite immature in his faith—and so he was enrolled as a student of Divinity. That session, he actually studied very little theology because having recently taught himself sufficient French to use the language for study, he pursued his researches into theoretical mathematics with renewed vigor. Nevertheless, towards the end of the session he was deeply stirred by the power of the writings of Jonathan Edwards and came to an intellectual grasp of the magnificence of the Godhead and of the providential subordination of all things to His one sovereign purpose.

During these years another part of his great talent began to come into prominence. On entry to the University his expressive proficiency in English grammar and rhetoric was at best immature, but after two years of study, there was a perceptible change. The gifts of powerful, intense and sustained expression revealed themselves with freedom, spontaneity and beauty. Student Debating Societies, class discourses, and daily prayers in the University were all enriched by his tasteful, capable and eloquent participation.

By 1798, having just reached the age of eighteen, he had completed his course of studies at the University of St Andrews. The foundations were laid for his future development. As his biographer Hanna would later assert, “The intensity of his nature, the redundant energy that hardly knew fatigue, the largeness of his view, the warmth of his affection, the independence of his judgement, and the gushing impetuosity of his style, were already manifest from these college days.”

In July 1799, he was licensed to preach after a special dispensation exempted him from the qualifying condition of having reached the age of twenty-one. At the same time, he became a teaching assistant at the University of Edinburgh in the widely varied disciplines of Mathematics, Chemistry, Natural and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy.

During the winter of 1801, he was offered a post as Assistant in the Mathematics Department at St Andrews as well as the pastorate of the small parish church in Kilmany. And thus began his remarkable dual career as an ecclesiastic and an academic. Over the next forty-four years Thomas Chalmers gave himself to public service. Twenty of these years were spent in three parishes: first at Kilmany and then later at, the Tron Church and St John’s Church, both in Glasgow. The remaining twenty-four years were spent as a professor in three different chairs, Moral Philosophy in St Andrews, Professor of Divinity in Edinburgh, and Principal and Professor of Divinity in the Free Church Theological Institution, Edinburgh, later known as New College. Often, he served both church and university simultaneously, evoking the wonder of the entire world.

As a teacher, he aroused the enthusiasm of his students. One of them later commented, “Under his extraordinary management, the study of Mathematics was felt to be hardly less a play of the fancy than a labor of the intellect—the lessons of the day being continually interspersed with applications and illustrations of the most lively nature, so that he secured in a singular manner the confidence and attachment of his pupils.” Likewise, his parishioners found his sermons to be both erudite and winsome, aimed at both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. His reputation was soon spread throughout Scotland.

The years of work given to parish ministry were extremely significant in the life of Thomas Chalmers. The mental capacity that he had shown in academic pursuits and his youthful strength of spirit were now brought to the test of service to rural and urban communities at a time of extremely significant social change, and the ever transforming power of the Gospel was to prove itself in and through his life and service.

Family bereavements brought Chalmers to reflect more seriously about a dimension of life which, on his own confession, he had not fully considered. His brother, George, three years older, and his sister, Barbara, some five years older, both died within the space of two years. George had been the captain of a merchant ship, but succumbed to tuberculosis and returned home at the age of twenty-nine to die. He awaited the end calmly, his trust resting firmly in Christ. Each evening he had read to him one of John Newton’s sermons and obviously derived especial comfort therein. His quiet and assured faith challenged his younger brother. Barbara, likewise, suffering the same disease, showed great fortitude and confidence in the face of death. The nature of these circumstances brought him to question his previous conceptions.

After Barbara’s death, Thomas, who had been commissioned to write several articles for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on mathematical subjects, wrote to the editor and asked that the article on Christianity should also be allocated to him. Before finishing the article and just after he had made his maiden speech in the General Assembly of 1809, he himself fell gravely ill. Ill-health dogged him for months—at one point being so severe that his family despaired of his very life. The combination of his illness and the loss of his siblings signaled a profound change in his life. He wrote to a friend, “My confinement has fixed on my heart a very strong impression of the insignificance of time—an impression which I trust will not abandon me though I again reach the heyday of health and vigor. This should be the first step to another impression still more salutary—the magnitude of eternity. Strip human life of its connection with a higher scene of existence and it is the illusion of an instant, an unmeaning farce, a series of visions and projects, and convulsive efforts, which terminate in nothing. I have been reading Pascal’s Thoughts on Religion: you know his history—a man of the richest endowments, and whose youth was signalized by his profound and original speculations in mathematical science, but who could stop short in the brilliant career of discovery, who could resign all the splendors of literary reputation, who could renounce without a sigh all the distinctions which are conferred upon genius, and resolve to devote every talent and every hour to the defense and illustration of the Gospel. This, my dear sir, is superior to all Greek and Roman fame.”

Yet another influence on his spiritual development at this time was the reading of William Wilberforce’s Practical View of Christianity. Again, he wrote, “The deep views he gives of the depravity of our nature, of our need of an atonement, of the great doctrine of acceptance through that atonement, of the sanctifying influence of the Spirit—these all have given a new aspect to my faith.”

Chalmers now had his priorities set in order before him. He gladly recognized God’s claim to rule the affections of his heart and command his life’s obedience. The remainder of his ministry in Kilmany was profoundly affected by the experience of a vital Christian walk. His preaching had new life and concern, proclaiming what he had formerly disclaimed. His pastoral visitation and his instruction in the homes of his parish showed greater ardor than ever before. From outside the region many came to hear the Word, and heard it gladly. There were innumerable converts to this living Christianity.

Chalmers became an earnest student of the Scriptures and also set aside one day each month when, before God, he reviewed his service to Him and sought, with confession and thanksgiving, the blessing of God on his work and on the people entrusted to his pastoral care. These years were also those of the Napoleonic Wars and Chalmers joined the volunteers, holding commissions as a chaplain and lieutenant, though he was never deployed on the continent.

He completely abandoned himself to the covenantal community there at Kilmany. He married and had his first children there. He established a classical school at the heart of the parish. He set about a reform of the ministry to the poor, the widows, and the orphans. He established a pioneer missionary society and a Bible society. In addition, Chalmers began his prodigious and prolific publishing career.

It was inevitable that a man of such gifts would not long be underutilized in the small environs of the Fife seacoast. In July 1815, when news of the victory at Waterloo was scarcely a month old, he preached the last sermon of his twelve-year ministry in Kilmany. His final exhortation was: “Choose Him, then, my brethren. Choose Him as the Captain of your salvation. Let him enter into your hearts by faith, and let Him dwell continually there. Cultivate a daily intercourse and a growing acquaintance with Him. O you are in safe company, indeed, when your fellowship is with Him.”

Thomas Chalmers went to Glasgow at the invitation of the Magistrates and Town Council of Glasgow. He served first in the Tron Church until 1819, and then, by the election of the Town Council, he was transferred to the newly-created parish of St John’s, a poorer parish with a very high proportion of factory a workers, a parish in which he had the freedom to develop the ideas which he had long been maturing.

In the later years at Kilmany, Chalmers had made conscience of his work as a parish minister and had come to know the problems of working a rural parish. Now with his newly expanded duties in Glasgow, he came to grips with the difficulties of work in a city parish and applied his intelligence and strength to new problems.

From the beginning of his ministry in the city his preaching was fully appreciated, and many attended from throughout Glasgow, but Chalmers was concerned that his ministry should first and foremost be to the parish—where some eleven or twelve-thousand people lived and worked. He commenced a program of visitation from house to house which took two years to complete. He organized the eldership to co-operate in this task and developed Sabbath evening schools. Commencing with thirteen children, the schools grew until within two years they had twelve hundred children under instruction. His awareness of the situation of the people gave him an acute understanding of the problems of illiteracy and poverty in the parish and he could not rest until he had found some means of remedying these. His interest in the working-man furthered his reflections on the economic situation; his interest in the sciences led to the Astronomical Discourses, a series of Thursday afternoon sermons delivered once every two months during 1816. Many businessmen and others left their place of work to hear these and during 1817 nine editions of some 20,000 copies were published.

In 1816, the University of Glasgow unanimously conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. The Lord High Commissioner at the General Assembly in the same year invited him to preach in Edinburgh at the time of the Assembly. Hard work and new-found fame were joined in the experience of Chalmers, but he was dissatisfied.

He was convinced that the Christian church had as yet unfulfilled responsibilities to all those who lived and worked in the local parish, not merely to those who attended the local place of worship. In the development of Sabbath School work Chalmers discovered that many children had great difficulty in reading. He resolved to remedy the defect by setting up classical schools throughout the parish—especially for the poor and neglected. Provision for the needs of the poor was also made, not from the poor-rate levy, but from funds administered by the church of the parish through its deacons who were given special training for this work. Relatives of the needy were encouraged to assume responsibility and the government’s poor relief costs for the parish were reduced by more than eighty per cent within three years. And as if all this were not enough, by correspondence he maintained a ministry with many others beyond the bounds of Glasgow, writing on average some fifty letters a week—and they were for the most part, letters of great substance.

The years of his ministry in Glasgow were very significant. There was no class of persons untouched by his labors. Before his time many had fallen away from all Christian belief and observance, but under his ministry public sentiment turned decisively to evangelical liveliness. By his labors living faith in Christ was restored and many men and women throughout the city gave themselves for Christian service.

When he was invited to return to his former University, St Andrews, as Professor of Moral Philosophy, he accepted because he saw it as a position of wider usefulness and also because he felt that the pressure of life in Glasgow which had progressively increased was making excessive demands on him. But his concerns for the urban parishes remained undiminished. His interest for instance, in dealing with the problem of poverty led to an invitation to London by the Parliamentary Committee on the Irish Poor Law. In 1840 he gave a paper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science recommending the system of voluntary assistance to the poor. He was well informed on the major public issues of his day—Roman Catholic Emancipation, the Reform Bill and the Corn Laws and his opinion was valued by great and small alike on all of these problems. In 1832 the Bishop of London recommended the President of the Royal Society to invite Dr Chalmers to prepare a treatise in proof of the wisdom and benevolence of God shown in the works of creation. It was published in the following year with funds from the legacy of the Earl of Bridgewater and was known as the Bridgewater Treatise.

Amongst the honors that had come his way in the same year was his election as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He had previously formed part of a delegation on William IV's accession in 1830 and had been named as one of His Majesty’s Chaplains in Scotland. He was later to present a loyal address on behalf of the University of Edinburgh to Queen Victoria on her accession in 1837. In January 1834, Dr Chalmers was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the following year became one of its Vice-Presidents. The Royal Institute of France honored him with the title of corresponding member and four years later, in 1838, he visited France and read a lecture on the “Distinction both in principle and effect between a legal charity for the relief of indigence and a legal charity for the relief of disease.” His many books and sermons were invariably best-sellers for years on end.

Thus, his reputation was well-established, his contribution to the life of Scotland, England and Ireland fully recognized, and his fame spread around the world when he found himself not only involved in, but leading, a movement that was to divide the Church of Scotland, and to set him in apparent disregard of the authority of the highest civil court in the land.

With the disappearance of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland as a spiritual force in the sixteenth century, the Presbyterian Church had assumed the right to be the Church of Scotland. Its struggle for spiritual independence had been a long and costly one under the leadership of John Knox, Andrew Melville and Alexander Henderson amongst others. At long last, in 1690, the Presbyterian Church was legally recognized by the crown as the established Church of Scotland, but in this recognition by the state there was no question of the church surrendering any aspect of its independence. It was free to follow the guidance of the Divine Head in every aspect in which He had expressed His will.

Patronage, or the right of landowners to bring to a parish a minister who might or might not be acceptable to the elders and members of it, had been brought in by Act of Parliament in 1712. But in 1838, in two cases in particular, those of Auchterarder and Marnoch, ministers were forced on congregations opposed to their settlement and the Court of Session and the House of Lords ratified these decisions. Many in the church were seriously perturbed.

There were other areas of concern as well. It was decided that the Church did not have the power to organize new parishes nor give the ministers there the status of clergy of the Church. She had no authority to receive again clergy who had left it. And perhaps worst of all a creeping liberal formalism was slowly smothering the evangelical zeal of the whole land. Alas, despite repeated requests, the Government refused to take action to deal with the threat of spiritual atrophy. After a ten year long struggle to regain the soul of the church, the evangelical wing, led by Chalmers and others laid a protest on the table of the Assembly some four hundred ministers and a like number of elders left the established Church of Scotland on May 18, 1843, to form the Free Church.

When the General Assembly of the Free Church was constituted that grave morning, Thomas Chalmers was called to be its Moderator. He was the man whose reputation in the Christian world was the highest; he was also the man whose influence in directing the events leading to what would eventually be called the Disruption had been greatest.

The ministers who left the Established Church with Chalmers that day sacrificed much. In the personal sphere their houses and financial security were set aside, their work had to be reorganized and new centers for preaching found. Chalmers, in this respect, also suffered loss. He was no longer Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and the influence and prestige of that position went to another. But the Church realized that, without continued pastoral training, its future was bleak. A center for theological study, the Free Church Theological Institute, was opened and Chalmers was appointed Principal and Professor of Divinity.

A few years before, when Chalmers had completed his sixtieth year, he looked forward to a “sabbatical decennium,” a seventh decade of life that would be spent as “the Sabbath of our earthly pilgrimage—as if on the shore of the eternal world.” The years before 1843 had brought him little of the rest and peace that he hoped for and, of course, after the Disruption, he had even more to do.

His lectures continued, but there was also the concern of finding a site and constructing a building to house the New College. In 1846, after much personal sacrifice and intense labor, Chalmers laid the foundation-stone of the new building. “We leave to others the passions and politics of this world, and nothing will ever be taught, I trust, in any of our halls which shall have the remotest tendency to disturb the existing order of things, or to confound the ranks and distinctions which at present obtain in society. But there is one equality between man and man which will strenuously be taught—the essential equality of human souls; and that in the high count and reckoning of eternity, the soul of the poorest of nature’s children, the raggedest boy that runs along the pavement, is of like estimation in the eyes of heaven with that of the greatest and noblest of our land.”

The means for supporting the ministers of the church following the Disruption had to be found and Chalmers dedicated much of his time and energy to the setting up of a Sustentation Fund. By the end of 1844 it was clear that the cost of maintaining spiritual independence would involve foregoing any financial assistance given by the State. It was under his leadership that this problem was confronted and resolved. In addition, new sites for some 700 churches and manses had to be found for the congregations that were formed, and there were difficulties with several landowners in getting sites. In many cases Chalmers was able to give assistance through his personal influence. His own home in Morningside was used as a place of worship for years afterward.

All this effort was not dedicated simply to perpetuating an idea, for Chalmers had a vision of Scotland in which all her people from those of highest to those of lowest rank would know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps the dearest example of the outworking of this vision is seen in the West Port experiment in Edinburgh, “a fourth part of the whole population being pauper and another fourth street beggars, thieves and prostitutes.” The population amounted to upwards of 400 families of whom 300 had no connection with the Church. Of 411 children of school age, 290 were growing up without any education. The plan of Chalmers was to divide the whole territory into twenty districts each containing about twenty families. To each district a discipler was appointed whose duty was to visit each family once a week. A school was provided. By the end of 1845, 250 scholars had attended the school. A library, a savings bank, a wash-house and an industrial school had been provided, and there was a congregation served by a missionary-minister. Chalmers often attended the services there and would take part as a worshipper alongside the people of the district.

Thomas Carlyle said of him “What a wonderful old man Chalmers is. Or rather, he has all the buoyancy of youth. When so many of us are wringing our hands in hopeless despair over the vileness and wretchedness of the large towns, there goes the old man, shovel in hand, down into the dirtiest puddles of the West Port of Edinburgh, cleans them out, and fills the sewers with living waters. It is a beautiful sight.”

At the end of the College Session in 1847 Chalmers, by now exhausted in his ceaseless labors, went to London on the business of the Church. He returned to his home in Morningside to prepare for the General Assembly on the following Monday. It was after family worship on Sunday evening May 30 that he said goodnight. He went to sleep in Morningside, but he awoke in HeavenHeav.

The funeral was held on the following Friday, June 4. The Magistrates and Town Council, the members of Assembly, the Professors of New College, ministers, probationers, students, the Rector and Masters of the High School and many thousands more joined the funeral procession, paying their tribute, as they followed the cortege to Grange Cemetery. According to Carlyle, “There was a moral sublimity in the spectacle. It spoke more emphatically than by words of the dignity of intrinsic excellence, and of the height to which a true man may attain. It was the dust of a Presbyterian minister which the coffin contained, and yet they were burying him amid the tears of a nation, and with more than kingly honors.”

Wednesday, March 16

1000 Wells

The statistics are staggering. More than a billion people around the world lack access to clean water. They drink from polluted lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams where animal waste, human sewage, and parasites infect the water. And as if that were not bad enough, in some of the most impoverished communities in Africa women and children must walk as much as two hours each way just to fetch that vile water. As a result, preventable water related diseases actually kill four children every minute of every day.

Because of this crisis among the poorest of the poor, multi-platinum Dove and Grammy Award-winning band Jars of Clay recently announced an ambitious new initiative called the “1000 Wells Project,” designed to provide clean water well systems to 1,000 different locations across southern Africa.

The project has been organized by Blood:Water Mission, the non-profit organization founded by Jars of Clay to foster AIDS relief through faith-based, holistic community development by promoting clean blood and clean water solutions in Africa.

The “1000 Wells Project” is based on the premise that one dollar can actually provide one year of clean water for one person in Africa. Thus, for 1,000 hours this Spring (during the 40 days of Lent), Jars of Clay has been asking artists, bands, audiences, college students, pastors, youth leaders and business leaders across the country to mobilize the people within their communities to each donate at least one dollar for this vital, life-saving work in Africa.

To find out more about this very worthy initiative--or better yet, to make a donation--visit the 1000 Wells or the Blood:Water Mission websites. And in these final days of Lententide, do remember the forthrightness of Christ's Matthew 25 admonition.

Tuesday, March 15

Two Years On

It was two years ago this month that I actually began blogging. Inspired by a feature on the website of author William Gibson--as well as intermitent requests from visitors to the King's Meadow site for more personal recommendations and comments--I decided on March 3, 2003 to create this somewhat regular online journal or weblog (from whence the name "blog" is derived). My plan was to post random musings, recommended book lists, commentary on current events, recommended book lists, observations from my travels around the country and around the world, recommended book lists, updates on the work of the King's Meadow ministry, and of course recommended book lists. Two years on and a quick scan of the archives provides ample evidence that I now have no unpublished thoughts! But, there are still oodles of books yet to recommend!

Building Codes

Speaking of books to recommend, I've been rereading a wonderful book that I picked up just this last year. I even listed it as one of my top ten books of 2004. But, I realized this past weekend that I had zipped through it far too quickly the first time around--thus, missing much of the pleasure and benefit of really savoring. So, Building Codes: The Aesthetics of Calvinism in the Early Modern World by Catherine Randall (Penn) is on my nightstand again.

This book is a stunning revelation. It brilliantly combines several of my deepest passions: Reformation history, architecture, worldview applicability, and prophetic clarity. It is also adorned with fabulous pen and ink renderings of some of the most amazing buildings in the history of Christendom's great flowering. In it, Randall focuses on the remarkable work of a handful of pioneering Calvinist artisans who subtly subverted the worldview of Imperial Catholicism in 17th century Paris by working out a substantive and overt architectural Protestant classicism. I'm going slowly this time. And, oh my, is it ever worth it!

Ahh! Books!

"A broad interest in books usually means a broad interest in life." Lyman Abbott (1835-1922)

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Richard Steele (1672-1729)

"You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

"If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying." John Ruskin (1819-1900)

"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes." Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

"A bookstore is an earthly elysium. In some strange way, it seems to represent so much of what man aspires to and it embodies so much of what man yearns for. Like a well-stocked library, a good used bookstore can be a sort of nexus of piety and sensuality, of holiness and seduction. Such sanctuaries from the hustle bustle of everyday life are in some sense cenacles of virtue, vessels of erudition, arks of prudence, towers of wisdom, domains of meekness, bastions of strength, and thuribles of sanctity as well as crucibles of dissipation, throne rooms of desire, caryatids of opulence, repositories of salaciousness, milieus of concupiscence, and trusses of extravagance." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

Food and Faith

“The way to a man’s heart is his stomach,” said the inimitable Samuel Johnson. “Similarly, the way to a man’s theology is the setting of his table at the various seasonal celebrations.” Indeed, there is little that is more revealing of our ultimate concerns than what we eat and how we eat it.

Generally we moderns tend to think of faith as a rather other-worldly concern while we think of food as a rather this-worldly concern. It is difficult for us to see how the twain could ever meet. In fact though, food and faith are inextricably linked. And while that is true to one degree or another in every culture the world over, it is especially evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West.

Interestingly, the word faith is used less than 300 times in the Bible while the verb to eat is used more than 800 times. You can hardly read a single page of the Scriptures without running into a discussion of bread and wine, of milk and honey, of leeks and onions, of glistening oil and plump figs, sweet grapes and delectable pomegranates, of roast lamb and savory stew. Throughout there are images of feasts and celebrations. The themes of justice and virtue are often defined in terms of food while the themes of hungering and thirsting are inevitably defined in terms of faith. Community and hospitality are evidences of a faithful covenant while righteousness and holiness are evidences of a healthy appetite. Biblical worship—in both the Old and the New Testaments—does not revolve around some esoteric discussion of philosophy or some ascetic ritual enactment, but around a Meal.

As if to underscore this, all of the resurrection appearances of Christ occurred at meals—with the single exception of the garden tomb. On the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, and at the edge of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus supped with His disciples. Indeed, He did not say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will enter in and discuss theology with him.” No. Jesus said, “I will come in and sup with him.”

Food is the stuff of life. And the Christian faith reminds us that Jesus came to give us life—indeed, He came to give us “abundant life.” So, it is not surprising for Him—as well as all of the apostles and prophets—to utilize food as a primary image in the conveyance of theology.

A few years ago I saw a little plaque in a kitchen supply store that read, “A good theology will invariably produce a good meal.” At first I just chuckled and quickly dismissed it as just another bit of gourmet’s hyperbole. But then, the more I thought about it the more I began realize that the epigram actually conveys a substantive and healthy worldview—one that uniquely expresses the Christian tradition. Like a fine feast, a good theology is more than the sum of its parts. While it is composed of certain essential dogmas and doctrines, each of those essentials must also be carefully related to all the others. It sees all too clearly the crucial connection between the profound and the mundane. While it wisely attends to the minutest of details, it also remains fully cognizant of how those details affect the bigger picture. It places as much significance on the bits and pieces as it does on the totals and vice versa.

A good theology is good for the soul. But it is also good for the world. Its spiritual vision gives vitality to all that it touches—from herb gardens and table settings to nation states and cultures—simply because the integrity of that vision ultimately depends as much on a balanced perspective of everyday life as on a solid comprehension of our highest aspirations. Its attention to heavenly concerns is integrally bound to its fulfillment of earthly responsibilities. A good meal, a joyous family celebration, or a well-kept seasonal feast effectively portrays that truth in a very tangible—and Biblical—fashion.

Of course, actually making that kind of integrated connection between heavenly concerns and earthly responsibilities is never easy—in either a mealtime or a lifetime. We are all constantly tugged between piety and practicality, between devotion and duty, between communion with God and calling in the world. Like blending sundry recipes into a cohesive meal-plan, honing a balanced worldview involves both the drudgery of daily labor and the high ideals of faith, hope, and love. But the results are always worth the extra effort.

A good theology—with its comprehensive worldview—inevitably affects the world for good. It cheers the heart like a sumptuous dish. While a bad theology—with its fragmented worldview—can only leave a bitter taste in the mouth. In our day, that basic fact has been borne out again and again.

When the subject of worldview comes up, we generally think of philosophy—not cooking. And that is really too bad. We think of intellectual niggling. We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities.

In fact, a worldview is as practical as potatoes. It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress. It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent. It is instead as down to earth as grinding condiments for a savory sauce.

The word itself is a poor English attempt at translating the German weltanshauung. It literally means a “life perspective” or “a way of seeing.” It is simply the way we look at the world. You have a worldview. I have a worldview. Everyone does. It is our perspective. It is our frame of reference. It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us. It is what enables us to integrate all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience.

And the Christian view of the world is fraught with a sort of cook’s paradox—an appreciation for both the potentialities and the liabilities of fallen creation. The problem is that we tend to want to hammer out our philosophy of life in isolation from life. We disconnect our worldview from the world. We either become so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good or we become so earthly minded that we’re no heavenly good. The Christian tradition on the other hand, affords us a distinctively balanced worldview that encourages us to be “in the world” but not be entirely “of it.”

The reason for this seemingly contradictory state of affairs—a kind of enmity with the world on the one hand and a responsibility to it on the other—is simply that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Though the world is “in the power of the evil one” and “knows not God, neither the children of God,” He is “reconciling the world unto Himself.”

A genuinely integrated Biblical worldview must be cognizant of this remarkable sort of paradox. It must be engaged in the world. It must be unengaged in worldliness. It must somehow correlate spiritual concerns with temporal concerns. It must coalesce heavenly hope and landed life. It must coordinate heart-felt faith and down-to-earth practice.

That is a difficult ideal to visualize—much less to implement in our lives. But that is just what a healthy apprehension of the connection between food and faith enables us to do. By vitally connecting the head with the hand with the heart with the palate, by placing emphasis on the whole of life—our relationships, traditions, simple joys, family celebrations, tastes, pleasures, and expressions of thanksgiving—the high ideals of a Biblical worldview are happily instituted in the very warp and woof of our existence. Perhaps that is why God so clearly portrays the essence of the New Covenant in a Meal. His aim appears rather simple: His gracious provision is to utterly invade what we are and what we do, what we think and how we act, and what we believe and what we eat.

According to Samuel Johnson, that covenantal link is ultimately inescapable. Looking across the wide span of Christ’s covenantal activity, it is obvious that he was right. Isn’t it amazing how easily we overlook the obvious? “Taste and see that the Lord, He is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Mmmm. I'm hungry!

Wednesday, March 9

Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the National Right to Life Committee, and a host of other family advocacy and values organizations are calling on Congress to enact a bill introduced yesterday by Representative Dave Weldon, M.D. (R-FL) that could save the life of Terri Schindler-Schiavo and many others facing grim prospects in the current legal and medical environment.

Terri and her parents have been in the fight of their lives since 1990 when she collapsed in her home and subsequently fell into a coma. The medical cause of her collapse is unknown to this day and she remains disabled. Her estranged husband has petitioned the courts repeatedly to end her life by starvation and dehydration despite the fact that she is happy and responsive to her family and has clearly expressed a desire to live. Her story—and that of her parents and siblings who have stood by her ever since her mysterious illness struck—is quite compelling. You can visit Terri’s website to learn all about that story yourself.

But as important as this bill is for Terri and her remarkable family, it is just as important for the rest of us. If her civil rights are threatened, our civil rights are threatened. Diminished legal security for any of us is diminished legal security for all of us. If her life is in jeopardy, our lives are equally in jeopardy. That is why so many advocates of moral values and family values are encouraging congress to pass this bill without delay.

That was essentially the argument of Lori Kehoe, Congressional Liaison for the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, during a press conference held in Washington yesterday. “Congress can act to ensure a federal court hearing on whether or not Terri will die of starvation and dehydration,” she said . “A proceeding known as the ‘writ of habeas corpus,’ which is protected by the U.S. Constitution, has been used for centuries to give a hearing to those whose liberty has been constrained by state courts in violation of the Constitution or federal laws. We call on all citizens to immediately contact their U.S. Senators and Representatives and urge them to support Representative Weldon’s bill to amend the Habeas Corpus Act to allow its use when a state court orders denial of food or fluids in cases like Terri’s.”

Representative Weldon has only just introduced the Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act and it is already creating quite a stir on Capitol Hill. So, please encourage your congressman and senators to vote for this important pro-life provision—not only for Terri’s sake, but for all our sakes.

To contact your representatives visit the congressional contact website.

Here is the text of the bill itself:

Section 1. This Act shall be known and may be cited as “The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act of 2005.”
Section 2. Findings and purposes.
The Congress finds the following:
(1) Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, “No State ... shall deprive any person of life ... without due process of law...nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
(2) Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment empowers Congress “to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions” of the Amendment. The United States Supreme Court has held that under this section, while Congress may not work a “substantive change in the governing law” under the other sections of the Fourteenth Amendment, it may adopt remedial measures exhibiting “a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted to that end.” Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 21 (2004); City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 519-20 (1997).
It is the purpose of this Act:
(1) to facilitate balancing the acknowledged right of persons to refuse consent to medical treatment and unwanted bodily intrusions with the right to consent to treatment, food, and fluids so as to preserve their lives;
(2) in circumstances in which there is a contested judicial proceeding because of dispute about the expressed previous wishes or best interests of a person presently incapable of making known a choice concerning treatment, food, and fluids the denial of which will result in death, to provide that the fundamental due process and equal protection rights of incapacitated persons are protected by ensuring the availability of collateral review through habeas corpus proceedings.
Nothing in this bill shall be construed to create substantive rights not otherwise secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States or of the several States.

Tuesday, March 8

The Last and the Least

When Hugh Goldie (1806-1881) joined a mission station in Old Calabar on the West Coast of Africa early in the nineteenth century, he was horrified by many of the things he found there. The living conditions of the people were utterly deplorable. Their nutrition was abominable. Their hygiene was disgraceful. Their social and commercial arrangements were in utter disarray.

But it was their cavalier attitude to the sanctity of human life that most disturbed him. Although they had recently abandoned the centuries-old practice of human sacrifice, they still freely practiced abortion, abandonment, and infanticide. Goldie was met with stiff opposition by the tribal chiefs--and even by many of his fellow missionaries who felt that his pro-life convictions would compromise their evangelistic efforts--he stood firmly on what he believed was the essential integrity of the whole counsel of God.

He faithfully taught the people. He worked hard to ensure that every man, woman, and child had access to adequate health care so that there would be no excuse for the taking of innocent lives. And he established a pattern of care and concern for the least desirable people in the community--rather than focusing his attentions on the most prestigious--thus modeling a consistent ethic of the sanctity of all human life.

Finally, as a result of his life-long crusade for life, tribal decrees on this day in 1851 banned the terrible customs. He eventually went on to his eternal reward having "run the race, fought the fight, and held the course" (2 Timothy 4:7).

Sports Scandals

Steroids in baseball. The NHL lockout. College recruiting slush funds. NBA basket-brawls. Tournament tampering. Salary cap and free agency feeding-frenzies. Jury-rigging rosters. Scabbing road team lineups for the playoffs. Blood-doping in the peloton. Under-the-table Alumni bling-bling.

Oy veh! What a mess sports have become--at all levels.

Why is it that the very thing that ought to teach us and our children discipline, sacrifice, teamwork, playing by the rules, respect for authority, and love for the game has produced just the opposite? How is it that sports have been so degraded by an unethical, manipulative, selfish, and greedy hubris? Even high schools, intramurals, Pop Warner clubs, Little Leagues, and church round-robins have been swept into the wretched hard-scrabble mess--as I have lamentably witnessed first-hand just this past week. What on earth is going on here?

At least part of the answer is simply that all too many unscrupulous coaches, agents, managers, principals, alumni, or parents are living vicariously through their athletes, students, clients, or children. To be sure, many of those athletes, students, clients, and children can be held culpable for the debasement of their sports as well. But at the heart of virtually all of the current sports scandals you will find some desperate, pitiable, and parasitic soul who lives off of proxy glory--all the while playing the supposed part of a mentor, buddy, or advocate.

It is a vile spectacle, indeed--a nasty little charade. Even in the midst of March Madness with my beloved Lady Vols, NC Tarheels, and Gonzaga Bulldogs roaring into the land of bracketology, it has practically become the ruination of sports. For an avid sports fan like me, that is saying a lot.

Monday, March 7

Golden Tongue

John Chrysostom (347-407) was one of the greatest preachers of the Patristic Age. In fact, his name actually means “golden tongue.” His many extant sermons on family life, personal holiness, and Christian social responsibility remain models of wise erudition and faithful exposition. In addition, he was an influential liturgical reformer. His work on the structure of the ordo in worship from the book of Revelation continues to define the parameters of orthodox liturgy to this day.

When he became the bishop of Constantinople on this day in 397, pious men and women throughout Byzantium rejoiced. A champion of charity to the poor, mercy to the lost, and tenderheartedness to the outcast, he was plain spoken about the ills and excesses of his day. As a result, he was extremely popular among the people. Unfortunately, his forthrightness also quickly earned him the enmity of many rich and powerful officials in the Byzantine court, including the Empress.

Though political intrigue surrounded him from the moment he arrived in the capital city, he faithfully carried out his pastoral responsibilities. And he made a dynamic impact on the city in a very short time. A great revival of interest in the Gospel and its incumbent responsibilities swept through even the most cosmopolitan circles.

Eventually though, his clear expositions could no longer be tolerated by the imperial court. He was exiled and put through innumerable humiliations. Throughout his ordeals though, he remained steadfast, and even after his ignominious death, his impact upon the whole fabric of Byzantine culture was profoundly felt.

Sage Gates

Bill Gates is not always right--just check out the current woes with MSN, Hotmail, and PowerPoint, for instance--but he often is. His recent prophetic utterances at the national Governor's meeting in Washington are evidence of that:

"America's high schools are obsolete," he asserted during a plenary address. "By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed, or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools--even when they are working as designed--cannot teach all our children what they need to know today."

Well, duh!

Saturday, March 5

Digital Clock

If you've been looking for a good digital clock program for your computer desktop, look no further than industrial designer Yugo Nakamura's "Industrious Clock" Monocraft 3.0. It is an ironic combination of art and technology--and notice: it really is accurate. Really!

Wednesday, March 2

Mission Trip Report

My sermon from this past Sunday morning included a report from our trip to Indonesia. The audio file from the service may be downloaded or streamed online at the website of Christ Community Church. I'll give a more detailed report of our remarkably fruitful season of ministry--on the islands that our forebearers aptly named the Antipodes--this coming Sunday in the Micah Mandate Sunday School class. That talk will also be posted online as an audio file.