Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Safe in God's hands

The world is a discouraging place. Herewith, for encouragement, a quotation from Lizette Woodworth Reese:

Oh, unforgotten things,
Gone out of all the springs;
The quest, the dream, the creed!
Gone out of all the lands,
And yet safe in God's hands;--
For shall the dull herbs live again,
And not the sons of men?

From "Herbs" by Lizette Woodworth Reese.

This one, also:
      Wild Geese

THE sun blown out;
The dusk about:
Fence, roof, tree — here or there,
Wedged fast in the drab air;
A pool vacant with sky,
That stares up like an eye.

Nothing can happen. All is done —
The quest to fare,
The race to run —
The house sodden with years,
And bare
Even of tears.
A cry!
From out the hostelries of sky,
And down the gray wind blown;
Rude, innocent, alone.
Now, in the west, long sere,
An orange thread, the length of spear;
It glows;
It grows;
The flagons of the air
Drip color everywhere:
The village — fence, roof, tree —
From the lapsed dusk pulls free,
And shows
A rich, still, unforgotten place;
Each window square,
Yellow for yellow renders back;
The pool puts off its foolish face;
The wagon track
Crooks past lank garden-plot,
To Rome, to Camelot.
A cry!

See also here. 

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.)