Monday, October 20, 2014

Baylor prof. goes all gee-I-don't-know on assisted suicide

The meltdown of Christian stances in the moral fields is happening with head-spinning speed. This post is from a professor at Baylor University. God have mercy. Looks like we need to include assisted suicide in our statements and our witch hunts. (See previous entry.) Gotta love the reference to "enlightened Christians" who think suicide isn't sinful unless done for "purely selfish reasons." Condescend much, Prof. Olson?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good witch hunts

I've been thinking lately about witch hunts at Christian colleges. I've had contact with several very conservative colleges in my time, and I know well how difficult it can be for faculty not to have tenure and to face the possibility of being fired over small deviations from school doctrine on unimportant points. It does not foster a good academic environment for people to have to worry that they will lose their jobs if they have the "wrong" views on the order of events in eschatology, for example. And the more or less "fire at will" atmosphere on some Christian college campuses can just as easily be used to penalize conservatives who want to uphold the school's traditional identity as to penalize liberals who want to tear it down.

But when I read a post like this I have to think that at some point there has been a failure of leadership. The whole point of not granting tenure in Christian colleges, or of making that tenure conditional on continuing to uphold the mission and doctrinal positions of the school, was supposed to be to avoid precisely this sort of attack from within. Given the bio of Stephen Dilley (the author of the above-linked post), it appears that he is talking about Whitworth College, about which I know little to nothing. I do know that there are many other colleges who still have a chance to get it right. Cedarville seems to have been doing some house cleaning lately. Oddly, and receiving most attention in the news, this seems to have taken the form of ruling that women cannot teach theology classes with male students in them. I am anti-feminist but am not sure that biblical teaching on that subject mandates that particular reform at an institution of higher learning. However, my hope is that this is just a signal of deeper and more important reforms at Cedarville--specifically, routing out some more-than-nascent "emergent" and postmodern views which I happen to know were getting far too popular among some faculty in the past. There is some reason to believe that this is so given the proposal that one-man-one-woman marriage be added to the statement of faith. Indeed, that should have been done some time ago, but by all means, it should be added ASAP, and any faculty member who refuses to sign on that ground should be outta here.

Long ago, I used to think that a minimalist statement of faith at a Christian school was the way to go. This was an understandable reaction to some over-detailed requirements. The older I get, the more I realize that statements of faith are very much like creeds in Christian history. Why does the Nicene Creed go on and on about the Son's "being of one substance with the Father"? Of course, it is because that creed grew out of the response to the Arian heresy. In the same way, as the Enemy attacks in subsequent ages, it is understandable that the creedal affirmations required at Christian institutions will evolve so as to block the intrusion of new heresies and serious moral false teachings into the institution. The result will, no doubt, be statements that would appear odd in other ages. Others might wonder why statements on marriage suddenly crop up, or statements about God's omniscience (in response, say, to open theism), or statements about the existence of Adam, and so forth. So it will happen, inevitably, that a statement of faith will be to some degree a "monster," in the technical sense of having what appear to be disparate parts put together in an ad hoc manner.

What I am realizing is that this isn't entirely a bad thing. Nor do my own disagreements with the particulars of some school's statement of faith mean that the ideal is to have a "mere Christian" school whose only statement of faith is, say, the minimalism of the Apostles' Creed. (I hate to point this out, but it would be possible to be a non-Trinitarian and affirm the words of the Apostles' Creed.)

The funny thing is that even if I wrote a "monster" statement of faith of my own for faculty at my own imaginary and hypothetical Christian college, it would probably be fairly "mere Christian" in some respects. It might very well not contain inerrancy! It would contain nothing about eschatology except a minimal statement that we look for the return of Jesus Christ, who will come to judge the quick and the dead. It would be by intention broad enough to include both those who affirm only believers' baptism and those who advocate infant baptism. It would be intended to allow both conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants to teach or be administrators. On the other hand, it would be strongly enough worded on Trinitarian theology and the nature of God to make it clear that Mormons would not be regarded as Christians and could not teach at the school and that modalists would be o-u-t, and it would very likely exclude those who refused to affirm the existence of an historical Adam. I'm undecided on whether to exclude open theists. I would like to include something that would exclude doctrinaire, bullying, anti-ID theistic evolutionists and prevent them from taking over the biology department but haven't yet figured out how to word that. The moral section would be fairly extensive, given our present world's Corinthian debauchery and the appalling extent to which approval of this debauchery is entering the Christian world through specious and sophistical arguments. I would support any administrator who was an absolute hawk on these moral issues and promptly fired any faculty member who showed himself to be undermining the mission of the institution on those points.

My point in listing those suggestions is not so much to defend every single one of them as to suggest a trajectory of simultaneous minimalism in some areas and maximalism in others. It seems to me that Christian institutions need to get their priorities straight. I read some years ago about a well-known Christian college that was hiring a high-level administrator whose background was in the Assemblies of God. By my recollection (I haven't time to try to find the exact words) he had also made some disturbingly wishy-washy statements about abortion. I then read about an on-campus interview process (or perhaps this occurred immediately after he was hired) in which he had an open Q & A with students. Even though both his Assemblies of God background and his abortion remarks had previously been published, the students appeared to be questioning him far more about whether he believed in eternal security of salvation than about his down-playing the evil of abortion. In fact, if I recall correctly, I didn't see a single reference in the questions to what he had said about abortion. This was misguided. Was the same set of priorities represented among those who hired him? If so, that was misguided. Eternal security is a far more open question, biblically and in terms of Christian ethics, than the grave evil of abortion.

I suppose it is not surprising that I should have become more authoritarian as I have gotten older, and I'm keenly aware that authority can be abused. But where authority exists, as it certainly does exist in the private "little kingdoms" of small Christian colleges, it should be used aright. Having and keeping faculty who are teaching what Dilley calls "evangelical self-loathing" is a recipe for disaster. If nothing else, it means accepting parents' hard-earned money and/or students' back-breaking debt under false pretenses.

This is especially true in this day and age when it comes to having faculty who are teaching that moral perversion is right. As I noted here, this has apparently happened at Gordon College. Quite frankly, I am not terribly sympathetic to talk about the lawsuits that a Christian college would or might face if it fired a "gay" professor who was opposing the mission of the school by advocating the legitimacy of homosexual acts. For decades Christian colleges have been leaning on religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws to allow them to enforce minor points of doctrine. If they cannot now use such exemptions, or at least attempt to do so, to fire members of "sexual minorities" who are teaching gross sexual perversion (or anyone who is so teaching under their auspices), then the sooner they cease to put themselves forward as Christian schools, the better! Indeed, the sooner they cease to exist, the better, since their raison d'etre will be gone. What? If open advocacy by faculty of the morality of homosexual practice is not a reductio, what is? Would an administrator refuse, out of fear of lawsuit, to fire a faculty member at a Christian school who was openly advocating orgies in the chapel? I suppose the time might come when that person's "orientation" would also gain the sympathy of the intelligentsia and the courts, but that certainly would not mean that he should be kept on staff, paid by the dollars of pious parents under the impression that they are sending their students to receive a grounding in the Christian worldview! Better for the school to close its doors altogether. The same applies to anyone who is teaching the licitness of homosexual sodomy. An administrator who lacks the stomach for that legal and spiritual fight betrays, at least to my mind, a failure to understand the serious moral evil involved.

I'm sorry for those who have been harmed by misguided witch hunts. But I'm even more sorry for students who will someday go to hell because of a failure of proper vigilance against seriously false teaching. May God give grace and wisdom to Christian leaders to know the difference between one and the other.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

The surprise of beauty

Her beauty, with her face a little flushed and her hair ruffled, took him freshly by surprise. This shock of surprise was in all real beauty, he thought. If one was not surprised it was only a counterfeit.
Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean's Watch, p. 310.

The painting below, by artist Timothy Jones, hangs on my wall. It was finished by commission this summer.

It has been on the wall now for almost exactly a month. As the days move into the full glory of a Michigan autumn with much sunshine, welcome in the house to take off the chill, the glowing picture of oranges and strawberries seems somehow to grow more important.

No doubt it is partly the fact that I'm still not used to having it there at all, but many is the time in the last two weeks that I have looked up in the midst of thinking of something else entirely--often something boring or vexing--and have been caught by it, like the Dean in Goudge's book, taken freshly by surprise.

If you have lived any length of time in this world you know what it is like first to be a child, to take in beauty with your full attention and without self-consciousness, then to lose that ability to be captivated, then to regain it, but only in fits and starts. We are creatures, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "distracted by distraction from distraction." It is a great grace to have one's whole attention captured by something lovely and to sense its quiddity, its "whatness." It seems to me that this is where Jones's genius lies as a painter--in drawing attention to the "whatness" of good things. See Oak Leaf 1, for example, or Oranges and Raspberries, Psalm 104, and others. These pictures can give the viewer, for a moment, the opportunity to forget the self, simply to see what is there, and to feel in some way, difficult to explain, that that moment of seeing is all that matters. Jones's use of light accentuates the significant object; the light "tells" the viewer that he is right to see this thing as important, for the light rests upon it. It is only sunlight, natural light. But can sunlight ever be "mere" or "only"? The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

If we are lucky, we have these moments of clear vision sometimes in relation to nature--a shaft of sunlight cast across a church nave, blue tree shadows on the snow on a winter's evening, a translucent leaf green against a blue sky. It doesn't happen nearly often enough. One cannot command such seeings, nor sustain them by one's own power. They come when they will, the wind that bloweth where it listeth.

Nor can the visual artist capture vision in the sense of "canning" it and making it available at will. What the work of art provides is an opportunity.

My thanks to Timothy Jones for his work on the painting I own and on all the others out there. May there be many more of his works in this dark world in the years to come.

(See here for a Christendom Review feature on Jones in 2008.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

"O Christ Our Hope"

It's been a looong time since I did a hymn post. Yesterday I learned of a new hymn. It's "O Christ Our Hope, Our Heart's Desire." The words evidently come from as long ago as the seventh or eighth century in their Latin version and were translated by John Chandler, an Anglican priest, in the 1830's. Here are the words:

O Christ, our hope, our heart’s desire,
Redemption’s only spring!
Creator of the world art Thou,
Its Savior and its King.
How vast the mercy and the love
Which laid our sins on Thee,
And led Thee to a cruel death,
To set Thy people free.
But now the bands of death are burst,
The ransom has been paid,
And Thou art on Thy Father’s throne,
In glorious robes arrayed.
O may Thy mighty love prevail
Our sinful souls to spare;
O may we come before Thy throne,
And find acceptance there!
O Christ, be Thou our lasting joy,
Our ever great reward!
Our only glory may be it be
To glory in the Lord. 
All praise to Thee, ascended Lord;
All glory ever be
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Through all eternity.
I'm not sure what tune Chandler would have recommended that it be sung to, but it is now sometimes sung to a modified version of Handel's "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth," which I think is an ingenious idea. I can't find a performance of that tune, but click on the MIDI file for "Bradford" here and see the print version here. Of the tunes I have seen associated with it, this is my favorite.

I'm quite surprised that this didn't make it into the Anglican 1940 Hymnal, but I hope that church music leaders will consider introducing it, as it is worthy to be sung congregationally. The Handel tune may be a bit difficult for congregations because of the jump on "O Christ," but not significantly more difficult than many other tunes that congregations are able to sing, and if anyone has heard Handel's Messiah, the tune will already be somewhat familiar.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Paley's Horae Paulinae on Aquila and Priscilla

The world needs more Horae Paulinae. What's that, you may ask? I'm glad you asked. The Horae Paulinae is a work by the great William Paley, better known for his version of the design argument. In the Horae, Paley goes systematically through the Pauline epistles and makes meticulous arguments showing their connections to one another and to the book of Acts. Paley shows again and again (and again and again) that these incidental and casual connections provide evidence both for the authenticity of the epistles and for the reliability of Acts and the origin of Acts as written by a companion of Paul. Eventually the evidence simply towers like a mountain. These are the marks of truth. These events really happened, these epistles were really written by the person to whom they are attributed, and the book of Acts really was written by someone intimately connected with the life of Paul. The entire set of books is part of the web of reality, involving real persons, places, events, and controversies of the time.

Paley's genius in the Horae lies in his ability to draw out what he calls undesigned coincidences. These are places where texts come together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but where no attention is drawn in the text to the connection. One account or epistle casually mentions a place name, a person, or an event. Another mentions some other incidental fact, person, or event. And from these emerges an hypothesis that involves the truthfulness of both texts (or even of more than two), but in such a way that it is overwhelmingly unlikely that either was copied from or based on the other. Rather, the coincidence emerges from the fact that both are referring in different ways to some factual state of affairs. (Sometimes undesigned coincidences can also occur within a particular book.) Tim has written about undesigned coincidences in a series of posts, and I have written about them here.

In this post I am going to type out a long passage from Paley with very little commentary of my own interspersed throughout. Bear with me. After the passage I will explain the argument, which, despite one slight overstatement of the case at one point, is truly brilliant. When you realize that there are many, many more such arguments that can be made concerning the epistles and Acts, you begin to realize the strength of the case for the authenticity and historicity of these documents.

Now what this quotation leads us to observe is, the danger of scattering names and circumstances in writings like the present, how implicated they often are with dates and places, and that nothing but truth can preserve consistency. (Emphasis added.)

The point that Paley is making is extremely important. If you go scattering people's names around in a forgery or a lie, you easily involve yourself in contradictions with other known facts. If, for example, you are trying to convince someone that you were at church one Sunday when you were not, and if you make up a conversation that you had with Joe at church, it may turn out that Joe was not at church that day at all, and someone may thus catch you in the lie. This is a simplified example. The problem can get a lot more complex than that as more specifics are involved. Paley continues:

Had the notes of time in the Epistle to the Romans fixed the writing of it to any date prior to St. Paul's first residence at Corinth, the salutation of Aquila and Priscilla would have contradicted the history, because it would have been prior to his acquaintance with these persons. If the notes of time had fixed it to any period during that residence at Corinth, during his journey to Jerusalem, when he first returned out of Greece, during his stay at Antioch, whither he went down from Jerusalem, or during his second progress through the Lesser Asia, upon which he proceeded from Antioch, an equal contradiction would have been incurred; because from Acts xviii.2-18, 19-26, it appears that during all this time Aquila and Priscilla were either along with St. Paul, or were abiding at Ephesus. Lastly, had the notes of time in this Epistle, which we have seen to be perfectly incidental, compared with the notes of time in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which are equally incidental, fixed this Epistle to be either cotemporary with that, or prior to it, a similar contradiction would have ensued; because, first, when the Epistle to the Corinthians was written, Aquila and Priscilla were along with St. Paul, as they joined in the salutation of that church, 1 Cor. xvi.19; and because, secondly, the history does not allow us to suppose, that between the time of their becoming acquainted with St. Paul, and the time of St. Paul's writing to the Corinthians, Aquila and Priscilla could have gone to Rome, so as to have been saluted in an Epistle to that city, and then come back to St. Paul at Ephesus, so as to be joined with him in saluting the church of Corinth. As it is, all things are consistent. The Epistle to the Romans is posterior even to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; because it speaks of a contribution in Achaia being completed, which the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, chap. viii, is only soliciting. It is sufficiently, therefore, posterior to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, to allow time in the interval for Aquila and Priscilla's return from Ephesus to Rome.

Okay, so what's Paley talking about? He is starting with the place in Romans where Paul says,
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. (Romans 16:3ff)
So, if we are to take Romans to be a genuine Pauline epistle, then whenever he wrote it, he believed Priscilla and Aquila to be in Rome and to have a church meeting in their house. Now, as briefly as possible, here's where it gets fun: Independent arguments give us reason to take I Corinthians to have been written from Ephesus right about in the space indicated by Acts 19:21-22, where it says that Paul sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia but remained in Asia "for a season." But I Corinthians 16:19 says,

Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Therefore, I Corinthians shows Aquila and Priscilla to be with Paul at that time and sending greetings to the church in Corinth. Got that?

In Acts, Priscilla and Aquila first meet Paul at the beginning of Chapter 18, when he comes to Corinth. They work with him in Corinth for a time while he founds a church there, then they travel with him continuously until they all wind up in Ephesus. P & A then stay in Ephesus for a while (Acts 18:21-26) during which Paul goes and has some other travels, returning eventually to Ephesus (Acts 19:1).

So, for consistency's sake, the other indications as to the dating of Romans should place that epistle after a time when Priscilla and Aquila knew Paul but at some time when they could have been in Rome rather than traveling around with Paul or living in Ephesus. But it also has to be possible for them to be in Ephesus (not Rome) at the right time for Paul to send their greetings to the church at Corinth when he wrote I Corinthians. Got it?

Just here Paley does overstate his case somewhat. He says that it wouldn't have been possible for them to have been in Rome after meeting Paul but prior to the writing of I Corinthians and then to have come back to Ephesus in time. This isn't strictly correct. Acts 19:1-10 records that Paul stayed in Ephesus for a period of over two years on that visit. This was after he knew Aquila and Priscilla, but they are not mentioned during the entirety of chapter nineteen. So in principle it would have been possible for them to have taken a journey to Rome, for Paul to have surmised that they were there and to have sent greetings to them in a letter to Rome, and for them to have returned to Ephesus in time to join in his greeting to the Corinthians, probably written about the time of the events recorded in Acts 19:22. However, as Ockham might have said, journeys to and from Ephesus should not be multiplied without necessity. It is simpler to assume that Aquila and Priscilla stayed with Paul during all or nearly all of his time in Ephesus until the writing of I Corinthians and that they went to Rome subsequently. (By the way, Acts 18:2 says that they were originally from Rome and were forced to leave when the Emperor Claudius ordered all of the Jews out, so it was natural for them to return to Rome when that was possible.)

It gets even more delicate to fit the epistles together with each other and with Acts when we add the further information that Romans appears (on independent grounds I'm not detailing here) to have been written not from Ephesus but from Corinth and also that Paul told the Romans (Romans 15:25ff) that he was just about to go to Jerusalem with a contribution from the churches of Macedonia and Greece for the Christians in Jerusalem. That contribution is mentioned in both I and II Corinthians (I Cor. 16:1ff, II Cor. 8:1-9:7) as being collected at the time that those epistles are written, so this definitely places the time of Romans much too late for the former idea to work. That is, the epistle to the Romans couldn't have been written from Ephesus during some unmentioned journey taken by Aquila and Priscilla back to Rome and then back again to Ephesus during the long period in Acts nineteen when Paul was working in Ephesus.

The question then arises as to whether there was time for Priscilla and Aquila to have gone back to Rome and started a church back up in their house after the writing of I Corinthians (at which time, remember, they were in Ephesus with Paul and sent their greetings to the church at Corinth). And as it turns out, there is. Not a huge amount of extra time, but enough. Here's how it goes: Aquila and Priscilla meet Paul at the beginning of Acts eighteen when they all happen to be in Corinth. At that time Paul founds the church in Corinth. They then travel about with him for a time. He leaves them eventually in Ephesus while he goes and travels on further missionary work.  He returns to Ephesus while they are (we surmise) still there. He has a ministry in Ephesus for more than two years. Eventually, shortly after Passover but before Pentecost (argument omitted here for reasons of space), he sends Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia and, just after that, writes I Corinthians. Because Aquila and Priscilla know the church at Corinth, they join in the greeting of that letter. Paul then stays in Ephesus for a while longer, probably less than two months. (Argument omitted.) There is a riot in Ephesus forcing him to leave (Acts 19:23-20:1). Either shortly before that riot or when Paul is leaving after the riot, Aquila and Priscilla also decide to leave and to return to their home in Rome. This makes sense, as the city of Ephesus would have been rather "hot" for them as well, since they were Paul's fellow-workers. Paul may have sent them away even earlier, realizing the growing danger even before the riot breaks out. In fact, we find in Acts 19:21 that Paul sketched out a future itinerary that involved eventually going to Rome himself, so it fits quite well that he would have suggested to Aquila and Priscilla that they return there and set up their base of operations there once again. Whether before or after the riot in Ephesus, they leave by ship for Rome. (Conjecture.) Paul then makes the overland (or mostly overland) journey to Macedonia and "goes over all the parts of Macedonia," which could easily have taken several months (Acts 20:1-2). Paul states in 2 Cor. 2:12-13 that he went to Troas and then on from there to Macedonia. Troas is north of Ephesus on the route one would take if one were going mostly by land from Ephesus into Macedonia. From Macedonia Paul goes south into Greece and (Acts 20:3) stays there for three months.

Since Paul knew that Aquila and Priscilla were planning to go straight back to Rome and begin to have a church in their house, he did not need to receive definite word that this had happened. However, in the seven to ten month total period I am envisaging between Paul's writing I Corinthians and writing Romans, it is possible that he actually received a letter or message back from Aquila and Priscilla at Rome indicating that they had arrived safely and had begun their ministry. Such a letter could have been sent to one of the churches in Macedonia or to the church at Corinth, to which Paul was eventually planning to go to gather up the collection for Jerusalem. In any event, Paul writes to the church at Rome from Corinth shortly before he plans to leave with the collection for Jerusalem (Romans 15:25). He sends greetings to Aquila and Priscilla in that letter (Romans 16:3). The reference to their having risked their necks could easily refer to the danger they were all in together not long before in Ephesus, which would have been fresh in his mind.


It is all quite consistent. In fact, it all fits together quite beautifully. But as Paley notes, how easily could it have been inconsistent. The introduction of the reference to the collection in Romans is a potential landmine. Anyone forging a letter to the Romans (for example) and referring to the collection to give his forgery verisimilitude could, if he were not very careful, easily have placed that letter at a time--e.g., at the same time as I Corinthians--when the salutation to Aquila and Priscilla would have been wrong, as they would still have been with Paul or, at most, might have just then left Ephesus.

Or look at it from the other side: This perfect jigsaw provides confirmation for Acts. If Acts were not written by someone with excellent knowledge of the associates and movements of Paul, how would he know when and where Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, their connection with the church at Corinth, and their presence with Paul at the time that he was writing a letter to Corinth? The fact that Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians is not even mentioned in Acts, but the events recounted in Acts permit Aquila and Priscilla to be with Paul at the time that, we believe on other grounds, the letter of I Corinthians was written. How likely would it be that someone using unreliable hearsay or allowing a heavy dose of legendary accretion into his narrative would write a book like Acts in which Aquila and Priscilla are able to be just where they need to be at just the right times to fit in with the salutations in letters to both the Romans and the Corinthians? If, on the other hand, Acts were written by exactly the sort of person it has always been taken to be written by and purports to be written by--a close friend and associate of Paul, such as Luke, and also one who was meticulous about the material he included--then it is entirely explicable that the incidental references in Acts to persons and places should fit with separate allusions in the epistles.

Another argument, which I am not laying out here in detail, can be made from the entire matter of the collection. Briefly, the collection is scarcely mentioned in Acts, only alluded to briefly in Paul's defense before Felix (Acts 24:17). Yet there can be no doubt, based upon all the evidence, that the visit to Jerusalem during which Paul was attacked by the Jews in the Temple (Acts 21) and subsequently taken into Roman custody was the journey to Jerusalem that he speaks of in Romans as imminent. On that trip to Jerusalem he brought a collection (alluded to in several epistles) for the Jerusalem Christians. He had gathered this money from the churches in Macedonia and Greece. That Acts dovetails so beautifully with the epistles in all the details concerning this journey--including the list of the countries Paul had been passing through just before going to Jerusalem--while scarcely mentioning the collection itself is strong evidence that Acts was written by a source very close to Paul and knowledgeable about his movements. The author of Acts simply recounts what happened as truthfully as possible, and truth preserves the consistency between the Acts narrative and the epistles.

The relevance of all of this to the central truths of Christianity is indirect but important. One possible "out" for the skeptic concerning Jesus' resurrection is to say that the disciples themselves never actually said that Jesus came and talked to them after his resurrection in the detailed scenes we find in the Gospels. The idea is that these scenes were some sort of legendary accretion that "grew up" later on and that perhaps, at most, the disciples had some sort of vague experience or hallucination that could be better explained as a result of grief or religious enthusiasm. The specifics of the gospel accounts of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances are, if insisted upon, an embarrassment for the skeptics. If they are taken to be what the disciples actually claimed, one has to hypothesize either implausible and detailed lying on the part of the apostles, for which motive is severely lacking, or extreme, polymodal, repeated, and lengthy hallucinations that coincidentally involve multiple people at once. This is why it is a good deal more convenient to dismiss them as something other than what the disciples actually claimed.

Athwart the road to that comfortable skeptical view lies the book of Acts and hence, by extension, the book of Luke, which was manifestly written by the same author. Both of these books contain specific scenes in which Jesus appears to people and talks with them, sometimes in groups, after his resurrection. The book of Acts contains a detailed account of Jesus' Ascension, and it also states that Jesus showed himself to the disciples over forty days after his resurrection by "many infallible proofs." Furthermore, Acts contains repeated accounts of sermons and statements by Peter (and John) that they were personal witnesses of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and Acts indicates quite clearly that they and the other apostles were willing to die for this affirmation. The meaning of their having seen Jesus cannot possibly be taken to be something vague, given the context, which is absolutely explicit that Jesus was walking about physically and tangibly, talking with the disciples.

If Acts and Luke were really written by a close companion of Paul who took great care over what he reported, then we can at a minimum take it, from a purely historical perspective, that Acts and Luke reliably convey what the disciples were claiming at the time of the first founding of the church.  Luke, the companion of Paul, would have had opportunity to meet the apostles and to talk both to them and to others who had heard them. He probably would have had the opportunity to meet Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well; in fact the first chapters of the gospel of Luke, concerning Jesus' conception and birth, bear a strong stamp of being translated from an original in Hebrew which (though this is conjectural) may have been written down by Jesus' own family and given to Luke. All of this, in turn, brings us back to the difficulties that skeptics should have explaining the disciples' detailed testimony and the disciples' willingness to die for it. Hence, anything that supports the reliability of Acts bears upon the truth of the resurrection.

There is a free electronic copy of Paley's Horae Paulinae available on-line here. (In fact, there are several different editions available on-line. This is a particularly good one; the notes by Howson, the editor, are excellent.) Paley is quite reader-friendly, I find. His language, though formal by 21st century standards, flows beautifully.

Take up and read.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Thai commercials--What's up with that?

So as not to waste the research I just engaged in to find all of these Thai commercials, I'm going to put them in a post.

There is this one about getting your nose out of your electronic devices. It's a commercial put out by DTAC, the largest mobile phone company in Thailand. (No, the irony is not lost on me, but it's still an extremely well-done spot with a good message.)

This one, with the message "Giving is the best communication," appears to be from a different mobile phone company. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) It squeezes an entire heart-warming story into three minutes.

This beautiful ad, from a lingerie company, of all things, manages to fit in not only a great story but also a surprise ending, though it takes seven minutes.

And I'm actually going to embed the one I just saw today, for a life insurance company:

It looks like the (presumably) Buddhist Thais understand something that a few Western Christians don't get about keeping your promises to your disabled spouse.

I've known some people who have spent quite a bit of time as missionaries to Thailand, and from everything they have said I have concluded that Thai culture is not in general heartwarming. Child prostitution (to mention just one thing) is so huge and so blatant in the big cities in Thailand that some Western countries have passed laws penalizing men who travel abroad (with Thailand as one destination) to engage in pedophilia. My missionary friends have repeatedly referred to the country, which they love, as "dark." They say this while acknowledging the darkness in America.

So what gives with the sentimental but also profound Thai commercials? These are commercials, too, that you have to pay attention to. They're brief but they aren't soundbites. In the story ones, the story unfolds gradually, and you're supposed to be following it, not just spacing out between football plays. They have visual subtlety, which is part of their charm. The messages are important, not merely gratifying. In fact, they could be seen as convicting to some segments of their audience. The one that shows all the people disappearing because of an over-focus on electronic devices is a tacit criticism of a large swathe of the population. The lingerie commercial criticizes a false notion of female beauty. And as for the Alzheimer's one--what can I say? Nor are they all from a single company, so the appeal of this type of commercial must be fairly widespread.

I really have no brilliant conclusion to draw here except to note the phenomenon. Whatever effect these commercials have in Thailand, we in the West would do well to learn from them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Blown about by every wind

[H]e that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:6)
Those few of you lucky enough not to have gotten sucked into the Facebook Borg may not know about the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which one is "called out" by friends.  One is then expected (unless one wisely just blows it off) to drop everything and either donate $100 to research on Lou Gehrig's Disease within the next 24 hours or, within those same 24 hours, to make and post a video of oneself getting doused with ice water. Some people do both.

It's a clever gimmick and I gather has garnered a lot of money for research on this particular disease. It has also sparked a lot of interesting talk about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, since the major organization to benefit from the viral gimmick (the ALS Foundation) has apparently engaged in ESCR in the past and is still using at least one cell line created thereby. So some people have hustled around and found ethical alternative organizations which also do research on this particular disease.

Which is okay as far as it goes but to all of which I want to say:

Stop. Just stop and think a minute. What are you doing? Why are you suddenly getting all interested in just this disease at just this moment? Presumably it's for the entirely arbitrary reason that it's what everybody else is doing at this moment and that someone tagged you in his video and "challenged" you to join in. It's a gigantic fad, a chain letter with a charity tie-in. Are we all so immature that we run our lives this way? Do we all interrupt whatever else we are doing and jump and run to do something, as long as we can find an ethical way to do it, because it's In just now? Have we all turned back into junior highers? Are we incapable of recognizing the unproductive yen to join in with the cool kids and not to look bad just because it happens to be connected to a benevolent cause?

I am not saying that it is morally wrong to donate to research on this disease.  I certainly applaud people's desire to take the trouble to make sure that their money goes to ethical research. But I am speaking out against a spastic culture, a social media culture, that lives by the Facebook challenge, that leaps about jerkily from one thing to another, driven and dragged by pings and tags. National Breast Cancer Awareness Day, National Black History month, National Dog Day, the Ice Bucket Challenge, the disease of the week, the cause of the moment. It should not need saying but apparently does need saying:

An irresistible urge to follow every ephemeral fad is not the mark of a life well-lived.

This also applies when the ephemeral fad happens to be benevolent in intent.

Get a life and live that life. Donate to charitable causes in a calm hour, with a cool head, because those causes are genuinely important to you, and incorporate that giving into your normal life. Don't do it randomly and arbitrarily because someone called you out in a video. Spend your time doing things that you already knew were important. Craft your life. Make your life. Live your life prayerfully and intentionally. Don't let fads make your life for you. If someone sends you the Ice Bucket Challenge and you aren't too busy to drop everything and make a video of yourself getting doused with ice water, you probably aren't busy enough doing more important things. Either that, or you have Internet-induced ADHD. Maybe both.

I'm sorry that this sounds so harsh, but it concerns me that media is making us into people who don't know how to do even good things unless someone tells us what to do, people who don't seem to have our lives in our hands, who don't know who we are. Move forward with your own life, fill it with good things, with well-chosen and well-considered activities.

C.S. Lewis once said (I paraphrase) that he did not feel obligated to read a book simply because the author happened to be alive at the same time that he was alive. The principle is more timely than ever in 2014. If you blog, you don't have to be writing about a topic just because it's what everybody else is writing about this week. You don't have to read a book just because everyone is talking about it and you don't want to be left out. And, yes, that has a ministry hook, too: "I have to read this extremely popular book or watch the latest movie hit so that I can minister to people who have read it or watched it." It ain't necessarily so. And if you give, you don't have to give to the cause that went viral on Facebook this week.

Be, even a little, self-consciously behind the times, because being always in touch with the times probably means that you have been wasting your time just keeping up.