Princeton, why am I not surprised?

In another blaring case of an institution speaking out of both sides of the mouth, Princeton Theological Seminary declared that it would rescind its offer to Rev. Tim Keller of the Kuyper award for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness as well as affirmed its commitment to “the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community.”  Evidently, Rev. Keller’s good status as a minister in a denomination  that doesn’t permit the ordination of women or LGBT individuals is a step too far for the “diversity” of their community.  Or, if Orwell’s animals were describing the situation here, they might say that, though everyone in the Reformed community is equal, Keller’s views make him not quite as equal as those at PTS.  Thankfully, Keller is evidently a classy enough guy to accept their invitation to come and speak regardless of the snub.

But the irony here just keeps right on coming.

kuyper-keller

The award that PTS has rescinded for Keller is named after Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch statesman and theologian from the late 19th-early 20th century, known as one of the earlier voices that began speaking into a North American context about the concept of a worldview (from the German Weltanschauung).  In other words, Kuyper helped American Christians begin to think of biblical truth as applicable to all areas of life (e.g. industry, art, science, etc.) and not just as it relates to the church, salvation, and the hereafter.  Here’s the ironic part.  Kuyper delivered a series of lectures at PTS in 1898 in which he issued some warnings to the American theological community about what he called “Modernism”, a distinctive of which Kuyper said “denies and abolishes every difference, [and] cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity.” (Lectures on Calvinism (1943), 27)  So Kuyper, for whom the award is named, would have decried the demolition of distinctions that is today’s zeit geist, and Keller, in apparent agreement with Kuyper, is denied the award by the institution for reasons that Kuyper warned it about 120 years ago.

If that wasn’t rich enough, I discovered through my highly sophisticated research on the interwebs that Keller wouldn’t have been the first “holy man” to receive the Kuyper award who belonged to a religious order that doesn’t ordain women.  In 2010, PTS awarded it to Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, an Orthodox Jewish movement that “…has yet to officially accept women in its rabbinate…” (see context here).   But we Americans have short memories, tender toes, and institutions like PTS apparently determine their standards by licking a finger and holding aloft to see the direction the winds of cultural change are blowing.  So I guess the moral of this story for all who seek honor in the hoary halls of PTS is, you better not be a conservative Protestant.

Sorry Keller.  I hope your speech is at least well-received.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day funny

Where else can one find the perfect harmony of St. Patrick’s day, obscure theological heresies, and a gratifying reference to Voltron?

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C.S. Lewis on Fake News

You’re probably thinking, “C.S Lewis on fake news?!  Uhhh… wasn’t he dead long before this whole fake news trend started?”  Well… yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that it wasn’t called fake news in his day.  But, no, in the sense that misrepresentations of current events in order to shape or alter public discourse/opinion (e.g. yellow journalism, etc.) has been going on for a good long while.  Only our chronological snobbery (also a CS Lewis-ism) would allow us to think that fake news is a postmodern American problem.  So I commend this reading (and illustration!) of Lewis’s take on how we can be done with wicked journalists.  An added bonus in this video is this: Lewis shares some very clear-headed thinking on a subject that many in our knee-jerk culture struggle to grasp, namely that it is possible to make a moral judgment on someone’s actions or words without necessarily falling prey to the charge of “self-righteous”.

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Baptismal Prayer of a Father

Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing another covenant child, and as I have done on many occasion, gave the child’s father an opportunity to pray for his son after the waters of baptism and the Triune name were applied.  The prayer that I post below is the prayer that father prayed (with names removed).  Even now his prayer for his son moves me to tears.

Father, I thank you for the opportunity to witness, firsthand, your kingdom moving forward. For we believe, in faith, that you have marked [our son] as one of your people, a part of your Church. I know we have yet to see the faith in his life, but we are trusting in you to take his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh. I pray that his faith would not be one born out of crisis, but that his trust in you for salvation would be like the air that he breathes… that long before he can express it, your saving grace would work in his life.  We look forward to the day he can put into words the great work you have done in him.

Father, I thank you that children are truly one of life’s greatest blessings, not life-accessories for selfish adults, not burdens to be endured by exhausted parents, but blessings in the purest sense.  For they are blessings that can, in turn, be a blessing to a dark and dying world.  So, to that end, I pray for [our son’s] physical health, that you would keep sickness and injury from him so that he may care for the sick and the dying. I pray for his strength, that you would make his body continue to grow strong so that he may be a defender of the weak and the abused. I pray that you would continue to fill his life with those who love and care for him, so that he may be an advocate for the unloved and the forgotten.

Lord, your word tells us that to whom much is given, much is required, and, as parents, we have been so richly blessed. So, I ask that you enable us to be the mother and father that your word calls us to be – that we would not neglect to teach our children your word, to discipline them according to your law, and to love them as you have loved us.  Also, as I have just asked you to bless [our son] with great blessings, so I trust that you will use him in mighty way to advance your kingdom – that everywhere he goes the darkness would run and hide for fear of your bright light that shines through him.

We are trusting in you to do all these things. I pray them all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Kingdom and Inauguration

This is a good passage to remind us of God’s upside-down kingdom on this day when the President who is inaugurated has an crown-icon“…obsession with outward appearance, sexiness, superficiality, wealth, [and] his own status and accomplishments.”  Our newly minted President, by virtue of his office, will deserve our prayers, our obedience as far as conscience and God’s Word will allow, but not our imitation.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 10

Kyrie, eleison.  Lord, have mercy.

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Gratitude on This Day

​On this Thanksgiving day, there is someone for whom my thanks could not possibly be fully stated: Mother Church.  She can be faithless to her Husband at times and temperamental towards her children, but it is into her arms that I was born. I know not the exact moment of salvation, but it is her nourishment and her children who have fed me, disciplined me, held me accountable, encouraged me, tested me, and lifted up my guilt-ridden countenance and gently reminded me of what her Husband secured on my behalf.  She is sometimes blind to her faults yet always on the verge of reformation.  She often seems so fragile and in danger of perishing, yet she has held forth for centuries against violent persecutions from without and hideous heresies and damnable schisms within.  In one breath she can chase away the stranger and the alien with idolatrous nationalism while in the very next breath offer a home and a family to an orphan and an outcast.  She is both confusing and endearing, maddening and lovely. It is an honor to serve her, and I’m grateful for the Word she serves me, the prayers she offers, and the saints to whom she joins me. 

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Review of “Imagination of God” by Brian Godawa

(full disclosure: I was provided a free e-copy of this volume by the author for the purpose of writing an honest review.  All page numbers will be from the electronic edition, epub format.)

I had graduated seminary and been involved in ministry in the local church for a few years when the book Word Pictureimagination-of-gods: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination (2009) was first published.  I had been struggling to figure out how to communicate about the Christian faith and biblical content in better ways in our image-driven culture.  I had wrestled with the question, “How do I excite people about a word-and-text-based way of viewing their world (i.e. Christianity) when everywhere else in their lives they are goaded and stimulated by images, videos, and little glowing screens.  So Word Pictures‘ content was like a fresh breeze to me.  Much of what was written I had already learned in various places, but Godawa was able to bring all the pieces together in such a way that it just clicked.  So when this book was republished this year under the title The Imagination of God: Art, Creativity and Truth in the Bible (2016), I was very much pleased.  And what follows is my attempt to help show how works like Godawa’s Imagination of God can help Christendom in the West bridge the gap from being captive to modernity over to a faithful and satisfying engagement with an image-driven culture without falling into the chasm of postmodernity.

After centering the reader in the personal dilemma out of which Godawa’s Imagination of God sprung, he moves on in chapter 2 (pp.19ff) where he lays out a very non-technical discussion of the nature of the Bible as a literary feast.  And like any good diagnostician, Godawa pinpoints the problem that necessitates volumes like his, namely that the study of the Bible had been hamstrung by the 17th-18th century Enlightenment’s preoccupation with precision and empirically-verifiable data.  In his words, “the biblical narrative became eclipsed by the pursuit of factual empirical verification of the text: a modern scientific obsession (pp.21-22).”  This obsession of understanding the Bible in such a literal and mechanistic manner ironically led to a widespread inability to see the Bible’s text in all its rich fullness, robbing people of their ability to fully know the true and living God.

The next two chapters, “Word versus Image” and “Iconoclasm” take the readers into the battle of ideas and its corresponding history.  Godawa demonstrates quite cogently how “…the structure and method of theology affects the content of theology…” and that any theology that neglects “…story, image, symbol, and metaphor… is not being strictly biblical in its method (p.57).”

But in this reviewer’s personal opinion, the real heart –  the real meat and potatoes – of this book is found in the next three chapters titled, “Incarnation,” “Subversion” and “Cultural Captivity”.  It is here where Godawa’s strength really shines through.  Here is where he applies the previous chapters’ argumentation to our own cultural context and helps us see how it isn’t postmodernism that gives superior tools for communication but a fully biblical Christianity.  In the chapter “Incarnation” he makes the point that the power of story and imagery are so potent because they embody truths that would otherwise be abstract and elusive.  But when “[n}arrative imagery incarnates truth (p.70),” readers/viewers can see the truth dramatized, creating an openness and an ability to identity with the truth portrayed — an openness that would have otherwise remained distant if the truth had been communicated through propositions and/or logical argumentation.  And Godawa rightly points out that at the center of all good Christian doctrine is the Truth Incarnate, the Word made flesh.  Not a mere proposition, but a person.  And it is this Person, this God-in-the-flesh Person, who enters the story of humanity and, with the drama of his life and teaching, punctures the pretensions and the feigned ignorance of humanity, subverting the truth claims of any and all-comers.  And “Subversion” and “Cultural Captivity”, the titles of the next two chapters, is where Godawa shows how — following sound, biblical precedent — we can use the “narrative, images, and symbols (p.93)” of our cultural context and subtly appropriate and redefine them within the superior system of a Christian worldview.  This is not a capitulation to the non-Christian mores and alternative worldviews of our day. This is, in fact, the conquest of them.

The remainder of the book  and its appendix, though not of as crucial a nature as the preceding three chapters, are a valuable read for any Christian who feels hamstrung or without the cultural vocabulary to engage these issues that swirl around us.  And any church leader who doesn’t have a firm handle on the use of story and image in the communication of the gospel today could do a lot worse than beginning with this volume by Brian Godawa.

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