1517 The Legacy Project

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

1517-Logo-200x200The power of the Gospel is rooted in freedom!

After months of very hard work, we are very excited to finally peel back the shrink wrap from our brand new nonprofit organization, 1517 The Legacy Project!

Come join Dr. Rod Rosenbladt and his colleagues and fellow members of his Thinking Fellowship to drink in unique perspectives in theology, philosophy, science, and many other important topics… while trying to have a sense of humor and not take ourselves too seriously!

We gave you a taste of the content we would be offering on 1517 through our blog posts on NRP this year. And we have been alluding that something was coming that was significantly more than what we’ve done here with NRP… and it is finally here!

Tell your friends.

As we progress, our NRP blog will be taken down eventually and all our new content will be available through 1517. This includes our Freebies section. The NRP store will continue to be here to allow you to buy the digital products you’ve come to know and love.

We will soon also be unveiling a hugely improved source for all our physical products, so stay tuned.

Come enjoy yourself, sign up for the 1517 email list, like our Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter. This is a party you don’t want to miss…

…because we’re not just leaving a legacy, we’re living one.

By Ted R

When Church Doesn’t Work

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Church Ruins - When Church Doesn't Workby Steve Byrnes

I’ve come to realize at the tender age of 47 that sometimes church doesn’t work.

What I mean is what the church is here to do, spread the Gospel, doesn’t seem to be on the agenda much of the time.

Of course, what I understand by the word Gospel (the message of Christianity) is that it is, at the least, good news. The news I hear promulgated by the various churches out there seems to break down to a laundry list of stuff for us to do.

Jesus had a word for teachers who ‘multiply tasks and don’t lift a finger to help’. It was one of many versions of ‘Go to Hell’. Unless Christianity is about rescue from above and a hope beyond this war-torn, weary world, then it is not bearing witness for the one whom it claims to represent.

When the Church preaches and teaches something else, it isn’t working. When it misses the great reversal, the perfect sacrifice that surpasses all sacrifice for all sins and transgressions for all time, the ultimate buy-back, when God took the burden of all the evil in the world upon Himself to redeem the world for Himself, the Church is broken.

When the Church misses God invading at various points in the history of man–specifically ancient Israel–finally showing up in person as Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrificial Lamb, it really misses.

When the Church doesn’t understand that, at the heart of Jesus’ message of the advancing kingdom is the crucified King who is leading captivity, pain, loss, death and the devil captive and giving gifts to men, it misses everything.

When it doesn’t see the face of God in the stories that Jesus told and the way He lived His life while on earth and the joy He had… and has… of finding and rescuing the lost, the least, the lowest… even the dead, the Church is not doing it’s job.

When the church doesn’t see and promote the joyous, raucous party in the midst of the sadness of this despairing world and see beyond it to the world to come where that wonderful party never ends, how can it call itself the bearer of the gifts of God?

When the churches’ preaching doesn’t call us to despair of our so-called ‘good works’ and our paltry attempts at sanctifying ourselves, bringing us, even at our best, as sinners to the foot of the cross, it does less than nothing.

When the church takes from us the gifts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, either by sophistry, neglect, absence or modification, it denies its Lord.

I’m not saying that salvation is promised anywhere else. It’s just sad to me when the church sells its birthright so cheaply for programmatic drivel and a devil-devised message of ‘my best life now’.

Lord, have mercy on your broken church and the broken people who look to it instead of You for rescue.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

** Editor’s Note: This post is not written with any particular church or church body or denomination in mind, but rather focuses on the state of the church in general.

By Steve B

Christianity as Philosophy? – Part 1

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Christianity as Philosophyby Korey Maas

The recent publication of Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex has prompted a number of Dog Bites Man narratives across the interwebs. “Plato to ‘Bill O’Reilly’: You’re pitiful!” is the headline of one. “Plato takes on Bill O’Reilly!” is the lead sentence in another. The reference in each is to Goldstein’s entertaining and effective portrayal of the philosopher encountering a loud-mouthed but not terribly bright talk show host (if you’ll pardon the redundancy), not so subtly based on you know who. The scene opens with Roy McCoy—O’Reilly’s stand in—beginning the exchange with a mix of condescension and dismissiveness:

Okay, so they tell me you’re a big deal in philosophy, Plato. I’m going to tell you up front—because that’s the kind of guy I am, up-front—that I don’t think much of philosophers.

That this portion of Goldstein’s book has received the most media attention is hardly surprising; it nicely encapsulates and reinforces what is probably the belief of most Slate and Salon readers: Bill O’Reilly’s an anti-intellectual. Not that I intend to rebut this. (As if.) I make note of it only because this is not the first time that O’Reilly and philosophy have come together in such a way as to prompt amusement among the chattering classes.

A more interesting episode occurred back in 2012, in a televised dust-up between O’Reilly and American Atheists president David Silverman. To Silverman’s point that the government should have no role in promoting religion, O’Reilly proclaimed that “Christianity is not a religion; it is a philosophy.”

Naturally, this prompted loud guffaws in the expected quarters, being perceived as a desperate and self-serving rhetorical dodge. And, let’s be honest, it probably was. Which is not to say, though, that the characterization of Christianity as a philosophy—however counterintuitive—is entirely without warrant. And it is certainly not without precedent. Thus, some of O’Reilly’s detractors overreached when they asked and answered questions like this: “Where did Mr. O’Reilly come up with this idea? Oh! I know! The tides told him.”

In fact, he could have (I certainly don’t suggest he did, but he could have) come up with this idea on a reading of the renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus, for example, who was especially fond of referring to Christianity as the philosophia Christi. But the sixteenth century is not the only place one might look; the same notion was circulating already in the generation after the death of the last apostle.

Perhaps the best known examples are found in the autobiographical section of Justin Martyr’s mid-second-century Dialogue with Trypho. Justin, who had himself traveled in Stoic, Aristotelian, Pythagorean, and Platonic circles, would characterize his subsequent conversion to Christianity by saying, “Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher.” Describing in the same place what he had learned to be the teachings of Christianity, he would likewise remark, “I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.”

Even Justin, though, was not without precedent in so speaking. The same is found earlier already in the Athenian apologist referring to himself as Aristides the Philosopher, writing to the Emperor Hadrian in defense of the Christianity he calls “our philosophy.” To note only two more early examples, the Assyrian Tatian would also call Christianity “our philosophy,” and the Alexandrian Clement described it as the only “really true philosophy.”

However bumbling or self-serving O’Reilly’s assertion might have been, then, it was hardly novel. The much more interesting question, therefore, is not why O’Reilly said what he did, but why even some of the church’s earliest theologians preferred to speak of Christianity as a philosophy—and, just as intriguingly, generally to avoid references to its being a religion.

That’s the question to be taken up in part two, coming soon…

Korey D. Maas (DPhil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.

By Ted R

Science and Religion – A Blog Series

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Science and Religion - A Blog Seriesby Dan Deen

My last post outlined a problem that I saw with a particular answer Ken Ham gave in his debate with science educator Bill Nye. I cautioned that much of Christian public interaction with issues of science and religion commits the same error of arrogance that befell Ham. Seeing as of 5/22/2014 the debate has garnered over 3 million views on YouTube, readers might be wondering what I think an appropriate engagement with science looks like.

If Ham’s presentation was not an acceptable way to engage issues at the intersection of science and religion, faith and reason, what is?

This question will drive my next series of posts. In this I will take a look at the locus classicus on the relationship between science and religion, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (1997) by Ian Barbour. The book is an expansion of his lectures given during his tenure as the prestigious Gifford lecturer in Scotland from 1989-1991.

Barbour himself died Dec. 24, 2013 at the age of ninety. His academic credentials include an advanced degree in physics from the University of Chicago and a divinity degree from Yale. He took a teaching post at Carleton College in 1955, where he worked out many of the ideas culminating in the Gifford Lectures.

The 50’s and 60’s were trying times for the intellectual respectability of Christianity. Logical Positivism working in tandem with a certain philosophical picture of science had all but forced the retreat of a robust Christianity to the subjective life of individuals.

In a nutshell, the positivists argued that the claims of Christianity could not be empirically verified. When the term ‘God,’ or some such religious term, was uttered it lacked any empirical reference. This entailed that the term was devoid of content or meaning. Quite literally they thought theological language was meaningless. At best, theological language was emotive, or representative of a person’s emotional or existential state(s). I’ll leave as an exercise to the reader why this might be a troubling position for a Christian to adopt and why this relegated theology to the sidelines of serious academic conversation.

Into this hostile academic climate Barbour strove to build bridges between the fields of science, religion, and philosophy.

Barbour helped to create an interdisciplinary dialogue that burgeoned into a genuine field of study. In subsequent posts, I will look at what is perhaps Barbour’s most lasting legacy, his typology of the relationship between science and religion. Barbour thought that religion and science interact according to four different models: Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration. This series will examine each of these positions in turn.

A couple of closing comments. This series is intended to be informative. My project as a philosopher is eventually to carve out some unique real estate within the complex relationship between science and religion.

However, this series will not engage in that constructive task. I will not actually answer the question by which I started this post—mea culpa. Regardless, much of the public discussion of science and religion nicely fits within Barbour’s typology. Thus, there is a public benefit to understanding these models as it will help us engage the conversation as more informed citizens. Cheers!

Prof. Daniel Deen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. He is completing a Ph.D. from Florida State University addressing questions at the intersection of science and religion.

By Ted R

What’s Wrong With Apologetics? (Part 1 of 8)

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Friant La Discussion Politique {{PD-US}}by Jeff Mallinson

Apologetics (providing evidence for one’s faith) is a bad word in some circles. In others, apologetics is an entirely negative enterprise: that is, it only tangles up opponents and exposes their intellectual incoherence while refusing to provide positive reasons to believe in Christianity. Even in my own tradition of Lutheranism, there are divergent assessments of the apologetic task. In this post, I want to brainstorm some reasons why folks might disapprove of apologetics.

1. False humility. Some worry that sophisticated arguments for the faith make one arrogant, or assume a position of theological Arminianism, whereby one bases faith solely on the intellect and free will of the individual believer.

2. Barthian compromise. Following the neo-orthodox theology of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some have attempted to carve out protected intellectual space that is radically distinct from other fields of knowledge. While they are unable to make a public case for the faith, Barthians seek to develop an intellectual zone that is immune from the attacks of unbelieving philosophers, historians and scientists. They can’t be proven wrong, but they can’t show how they are right.

3. Anti-intellectualism. Some simply dislike academic discussions. They assume that faith is purely emotional and that intellectual considerations are irrelevant. They aren’t interested in facts but focus on feelings.

4. Embarrassment concerning the tactics-simplistic apologists. Some Christians, more interested in intellectual pursuits than the anti-intellectuals, would rather keep some popular apologists out of the limelight because their facile, uninformed, and simplistic arguments for the faith make it look as if Christianity is on shaky—or pseudo-scientific—ground. They’d rather sweep the conversation under the rug so they don’t get lumped in with simplistic thinking.

5. Failure to distinguish the magisterial from the ministerial use of reason. Classical protestant scholars from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries clearly understood reason in a nuanced way. They rejected the magisterial use of reason, which attempts to judge the mysteries of faith, such as the Lord’s Supper, the Resurrection, or the Virgin Birth. They accepted the ministerial use of reason, which allowed scholars to know whether a text was actually a good candidate for being part of the canon of revelation, and what those revelatory texts say about important subjects like the deity of Christ. When this distinction is ignored, many Christians simply try to throw reason out altogether because they think it creates heresies and intellectual idols.

6. Lack of nerve. This one frightens me most. I suspect that at least some Christians dislike apologetics because they are afraid it might turn out that the faith that gives them comfort isn’t true after all. They gain a life free from worry that some new evidence will arise that shows their beliefs are false. Nonetheless, they are unable to explain to others why they should embrace their beliefs.

7. Sectarian xenophobia. Some simply are uncomfortable engaging folks with different views. Good apologetics asks the apologist to truly understand their conversation partner’s perspective, and this is can be a psychologically difficult experience. This sort would rather focus on preaching to the choir than invite the unwashed heathen to the party.

8. Pluralistic courtesy. This sort finds apologetics too intellectually violent. They don’t want to be bigoted, and they think asserting that one’s position is the best explanation for evidence is somehow discourteous towards those who hold to different beliefs.

Of course, I’m not saying that all those who oppose the apologetic project do so for these reasons. Moreover, I don’t wish to create straw men here; I’m merely brainstorming possible explanations for this anti-apologetic sentiment. Nonetheless, I remain perplexed that any Christian would reject apologetics in light of 1 Peter 3:15: “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (ESV) My future blog posts for this site will explore each of these potential reasons in succession. Feel free to comment and suggest explanations I may have missed. Welcome to a conversation about the conversation.

Dr. Jeff Mallinson is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Concordia University and Director of the League of Faithful Masks, through which he co-hosts the Virtue in the Wasteland Podcast. He earned his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. His book, several chapter contributions, and articles reflect his interest in the intersections of Reformation thought, philosophy of religion, and culture.

By Ted R

Christian Operating System

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Steve Jobs Macworld 2005by Steve Byrnes

What does Steve Jobs have to do with Lutheran Theology? Very little. But that won’t stop me from trying to make a connection.

The only immediate connection I saw was that he was raised in a Lutheran church as a boy, but left very early. At the end of his life, he was quoted as saying happily, ‘Oh Wow!’ Those were his last words and I place my hope in his baptism.

Recently, I read Steve Jobs’ biography by Isaacson. It’s a fantastic read if you go in for those things. And even if you don’t, Apple’s founder has had such a profound influence on the world, I still recommend it.

The big argument weaving through the book is whether integrated or open design is a better paradigm for complex items like computers.

The difference between the two paradigms is expressed in the rocky relationship between two of the most influential men from our day, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and the companies they created, Apple and Microsoft.

Closed

Steve Jobs went for an end-to-end solution, where software and hardware were designed together in an almost seamless fashion, concentrating on the user’s experience (from the way components were made down to the advertising, packaging, the sales person and store) and working toward simplification with no extra parts.

Steve was an artist, a controller who wanted every aspect of his vision realized and used computer parts, designers and programmers as his medium. He lived at the intersection of technological challenge and the humanities, refusing to compromise until he felt that the compromise was an improvement.

Any addition or subtraction by a third party (including the user) was trouble and was to be avoided or heavily controlled, if possible, in order to present his art unblemished.

He wanted people to do things and make things without the distraction of the inner workings of the tools and enforced his philosophy at Apple with vigor.

Open

Bill Gates is a business person. He focused on software and built Microsoft. Everybody knows about the ubiquity of Windows and Office and, if it was simply a war for market penetration in the PC world, Gates won hands down. Microsoft products work (more or less) on just about any modern hardware. They dominated with their operating system and then let vendors handle computer manufacture, sales of products and whatnot, also encouraging third party developers to partner with Microsoft on applications.

Which is better? If you want freedom to mess with your computer, Apple is probably not your brand. If you want the freedom to have a great experience doing what you do best (while Apple does what it does best) Apple may be a great choice.

Getting To The Point

So, I started to think about Christianity and how these two approaches, one a design philosophy and one a business strategy affect my overall understanding of what we are doing at NRP.

I’m influenced by both men. I’m convinced that Americans, to a man, for better or for worse, are inveterate pragmatists. Some of Gates’ approach appeals to this side of me. EESH!

Death by Analogy

I guess God agrees with Bill Gates too; He just started with the hardware instead of the software. Or maybe he went ‘Bill Gates’ after the fall. You be the judge.

God created the universe. His fingerprints are all over what He has made, and on top of that He gave us a book about Himself and what He has made and became one of us. The whole created order, which includes revealing Himself in the Bible and even becoming a man in the person of Jesus is the hardware part of the analogy.

The design is open because we then, as the users, get to create all kinds of software and even whole operating systems in the form of different philosophies and theologies and political structures, to work with the hardware and, like products from Microsoft, they work (more or less) because, ever since the garden and what happened there, our software/hardware design integrity has been a bit out of whack.

Before we wrecked it, you have God letting Adam name the animals, Eve, etc. ‘and whatever he called it, that was its name…’ Perfect integration!

So there are a lot of conflicting philosophies, probably as many as there are people, but they all are aimed at working on the same hardware we all share.

Even among Christians, who look to the Bible and Jesus as the focal point of the hardware (maybe that could be the processor, or is that too much?), there are significant disagreements and uses of texts. All Christians agree for the most part on the ‘Kernel’ of Christian theology which would be the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian). Even those Christians who say they don’t believe in creeds or are suspicious of them tend to agree with the individual propositions when they are presented.

Here’s the Apostles’ creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
   Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
   who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
   born of the virgin Mary,
   suffered under Pontius Pilate,
   was crucified, died and was buried.
   He descended into hell.
   On the third day He rose again from the dead.
   He ascended into heaven
   and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
   From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
   the holy Christian Church,
      the communion of saints,
   the forgiveness of sins,
   the resurrection of the body,
   and the life everlasting. Amen.

Pretty basic. If your operating system doesn’t build from these basic propositions found in Scripture, I would venture to say you are working with a different software entirely.

McChurch History (with Apologies to Silicon Valley)

Early on in the history of the Christian church, Rome was Microsoft and filled the land with its operating system.

The East got sick of the updates which caused some things to crash for them, so they split into another company based out of Constantinople in the middle of the 11th century. They’re still going today and they are big, but that’s a different story.

Going back over to the west and sticking with this analogy, Martin Luther and the German reformers of the 16th century would be software developers…

But they are more like Steve Jobs.

For these guys, getting back to the original design of the hardware when it came to Scripture involved working with ancient documents in the original languages (at that time recently available) and understanding what the Bible was saying (and how it disagreed with the abuses of Microsoft, er Rome).

The kernel of the creeds was left intact for the new system; the creeds represented battles hard won and, being Scriptural, were not a point of contention.

Once the Lutherans had their hands on the best version of the hardware scholarship could provide, they started reexamining how God had revealed Himself and the purpose of the revelation; they found the focus was Jesus and His good message: forgiveness of sins in His blood and liberty as sons for all who trust Him.

These German Christians then developed an operating system (now published as the Book of Concord) that integrated extremely well with the hardware of Scripture. It was so well designed, in fact, that from its inception, there have been very few updates or patches.

Way more like Apple.

There have been many competing theological operating systems since the 16th century Lutherans (including Trent) and those other systems tend to have more traction in the market than the Lutheran OS. This is another example, kind of like Apple and Microsoft, where the better product doesn’t win in the market for whatever reason.

And before you get upset with me, remember, we here are Lutherans.

But even with the software and hardware beautifully integrated in Lutheran Orthodoxy, and contrary to what most Lutherans seem to believe, Lutheranism is an open design. We would love individuals everywhere to check out the benefits of this OS and consider adopting it. It is open source (kind of like Linux) and available for download here at NRP. It has stood the test of time and the only thing we respectfully request is that you follow the principles of open source licensing and own any changes you make to it for the sake of avoiding confusion.

Happy computing.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Ted R

Wine That Doesn’t Run Out

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Port Wineby Steve Byrnes

We recently went on a wine tasting tour of several wineries in our neck of the woods, Temecula, California. It was great, in part, because we were meeting with one of our friends involved with non-profit work in our niche (didn’t ask if I could include his name or organization, so I won’t), and we could combine business with pleasure.

Tax season brings out the best of us, doesn’t it?

Anyway, as is usually the case with wine (pun?) there was more pleasure than business. This was a moment in our hectic, sometimes fruitless schedule where we could just ‘be’ with the gifts that God provides — beautiful scenery, great local vintages and camaraderie, without much distraction.

There is a real value to getting away into the country and benefiting from an industry that hasn’t changed much (like everything else has) in many, many years.

Things slow down.

And you gain perspective, not only on friendship and the gift of wine and a mouth to drink it, but on the vintners, and the sommeliers and even the families who own the wineries.

What a gift.

There’s a reason why God chose to convey grace through such a simple, wonderful drink. I’m not sure I can encapsulate it, but here are a couple of thoughts…

Drinking in front of your enemies

I’m not sure why Psalm 23 came to mind while we were tasting.

Perhaps it was the stress of tax season and the money crunch we all feel. “You set a table in the presence of my enemies and my cup overflows” was not just the double image; that of sheep drinking from the overflowing Jordan in the presence of predators mixed with the image of the Psalmist celebrating Passover in the midst of political enemies, but me, facing my enemies (perceived scarcity and taxes) as my friend covered for a wonderful day where our cups really did overflow.

Liquid Joy (Deuteronomy 15:14, Ecclesiastes 9:7, Nehemiah 8:10)

It is possible to forget this reminder at the communion rail. We don’t drink much there. But even a reasonable amount of the stuff can take you to a pretty happy place.

No wonder there was regularly scheduled, ceremonial drunkenness in Israel. I don’t know if my internals could handle a seven day feast, but even a little bit of this in a sober life can change your perspective and get you to see the gifts instead of the deficiencies of life.

The Gift of Medicine (Proverbs 31:6)

When you are sad and kind of sick and just not getting it, wine (as Paul suggests for Timothy) is a good thing. I was sad… and going out and getting some sun, trying some different wines (we went to four wineries) and breaking it up with some food and great conversation totally changed my brain!

I know that, in this fallen world, some have to refrain from wine for the sake of their health. But even those who have suffered under demon alcohol and lived in the prison house of addiction hopefully realize the fermentation process and those who curate it are gifts from God. The wine of communion is a gift from God and the blood of Christ we receive at the rail an inebriant that encourages and frees us.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Ted R

Popes, Pilgrims, and Prudence

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Apse of the Church of Saint Agnes, Romeby Korey Maas

I’ll try not to make this my particular hobby horse, but further to my previous grousing about the bowdlerized use of Thomas More in contemporary championing of religious liberty, I see that the clock is now ticking down to the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom,” which is timed to coincide with More’s feast day (as well as that of John Fisher, also executed under King Henry VIII). Commenting on last year’s Fortnight campaign, my colleague Darryl Hart sensibly wondered: “at a time when the bishops want to support religious freedom more generally, why invoke saints executed by Protestants”?

One might also ask, more pointedly, why invoke a saint involved in the execution of Protestants?

There seems to be a curious lot of this selective—even passive-aggressive—use of history going on. Over at First Things, for example, George Weigel, while noting that Roman Catholics have not been immune to the temptation toward religious coercion, suggests that the principle of cuius regio, eius religio (whose the region, his the religion), which brought to an end the Reformation era’s “wars of religion,” also spelled a reversal of the policy of religious toleration promulgated with the fourth-century Edict of Milan. As such, he offers, it was, “in fact, the West’s first modern experiment in the totalitarian coercion of consciences.”

That qualifying term “modern,” though, is crucial, even if not quite accurate, because a historian of Weigel’s capacities cannot be unaware that already in the same century as the Edict of Milan the Christian emperor Theodosius would criminalize paganism, that into the fifth century imperial authorities attempted forcibly to suppress schismatic Donatists, or (to cite only one more example) that the Fourth Lateran Council would go so far as to insist that secular authorities “ought publicly to take an oath that they will strive in good faith and to the best of their ability to exterminate in the territories subject to their jurisdiction all heretics pointed out by the church.” It’s difficult to see how the whole post-Theodosian phenomenon of Christendom can be viewed as anything other than cuius regio on a grand scale. So why is it only “totalitarian coercion” when Protestants are finally allowed in on the action?

This question also came to mind while recently reading Kevin Seamus Hasson’s The Right to Be Wrong, a popular history (and defense) of religious liberty in America. Hasson identifies opponents of religious liberty as falling into two camps: those who demand that all religion be banished from the public square, and those who insist that only the “true” religion be allowed public expression. The first group he tags “Park Rangers” (for reasons not worth explaining), the second “Pilgrims,” in view of the fact that most colonial Puritan (and other Protestant) polities effectively proscribed all rival denominations. This rhetorical framing is certainly not illegitimate given that Hasson’s purview is limited to the U.S., and that hostility toward Roman Catholics, rather than by them, was long the norm in America.

But especially since Hasson puts such great emphasis on how long and difficult it proved for Americans to develop and to enshrine in law a robust concept of religious liberty, it might similarly have been emphasized that this was partly the case because there was no clear theoretical or historical precedent on which to draw—even in the sources of Catholic Europe. Indeed, it might even have been noted that, for a century after America’s adoption of the first amendment, a number of Roman Popes were still regularly condemning the principles there set forth. Again, it might have been mentioned that it was not until 1965, at Vatican II, that Rome would come to embrace a recognizable doctrine of religious liberty.

Such acknowledgements, though, would have reflected poorly on Catholics no less than Protestant “Pilgrims.” As such, it would have complicated the sort of narrative on display yet again over at First Things. Commenting on a Slate.com article that offers the surprisingly positive assessment of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as one who “doesn’t share the morals of gay marriage supporters, but … is willing to live and let live,” Elizabeth Scalia concludes: “That’s a very catholic, and Catholic, way of looking at things; it used to be the very definition of liberality and tolerance.”

Perhaps it’s only because I happened to read Weigel, Hasson, and Scalia within the same few days that the similar sentiments reflected in each managed to get up my nose. But having read them in close proximity to one another, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that one is meant to understand that, historically, Catholic equals tolerant liberal; Protestant equals totalitarian coercer of conscience. Which makes the question of prudence worth asking again: given the recent and strong Catholic attempts to defend a broad religious liberty, why all the implicit and explicit swipes at their potential Protestant allies?

Korey D. Maas (DPhil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.

By Ted R

Noah never said, “Who’s laughing now!”

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Noah: Building the Arkby Steve Byrnes

In Sunday morning Bible study, our class is reading 1st Peter. This week was chapter 3 and I’ve always had a challenge with the imagery there. I’m talking about the way Peter brings Noah into the picture.

Up until this point in the letter, it’s been about being a different, winsome kind of people and suffering in the world for the sake of Christ. Then, in 1 Peter 3 he brings up Noah and the flood in what appears to be a weird way.

The first part of chapter three is dealing with being representatives of the body of Christ in the context of marriage (1 Peter 3:1-7). 1 Peter 3:8 is a summation of the strategic advice for Christians on how we can get more people to see Jesus in our lives and relations so that they might have an ear to hear the Gospel. Peter then quotes a Psalm to reinforce the message and give it more weight (as if it weren’t coming from the Apostle Peter!).

Suffering Is Good?

Then in 1 Peter 3:13, he starts defending suffering as a good. It is easy to see how the Jews (Peter was an apostle to the Jews) might wonder about that. In the promises to Moses, good followed those who were in God’s favor and bad things happened to those who broke the covenant.

I’m reminded of the Apostles asking Jesus in the Gospel of John (John 9) about the blind man: “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” not considering the possibility of Jesus answer, “this was so the Glory of God might be revealed” in Jesus healing him.

As Christians, we would certainly allow that good can come out of suffering. We immediately think of Christ on the Cross. But even our own suffering? Maybe our sufferings get beatified and connected to Jesus suffering in some way. And of course, Peter says this later. (1 Peter 4:13)

But there seems to be a challenge of some sort that Peter is answering. Perhaps the saints are saying on the receiving end of this passage some version of “how long, O Lord”, or just a plain old “WHY?”

In 1 Peter 3:15, there’s the wonderful, “always be ready with an answer (a defense) for the hope that is in you” with gentleness and respect.

And here’s where the fun starts…

In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter compares that good action mentioned before (waiting, gently answering, practicing patience) with the patient suffering of Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, who took our place and suffered to bring us to God.

I’m following so far: we’re to follow our Lord in suffering to bring in those who have not yet had the blood of the sacrifice applied to them (the righteous in Christ suffering for the unrighteous).

Jesus was killed ‘in the Flesh,’ but comes back in the Spirit or by the power of the Holy Spirit (too much to go into here… another post, perhaps?). And by the Spirit or in the Spirit, he goes to the spirits in prison (another post all by itself) because, “formerly, they did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few” were saved. (1 Peter 3:19)

And, in this way, Baptism and the Noah’s Ark are connected. God saved Noah and his family through water and he saves us in the same way.

And the part I did not get was this:

Why does Peter break off on the patience theme to go into the Noah story and then to baptism?

And I think it’s this–we’re like Noah in this analogy. Can you imagine what it was like for Noah and family to go into an ancient Costco to get some bread and Milk (or whatever they shopped for)? How hard it must have been, for 120 years, to be building a monstrous boat/zoo, probably nowhere near water, because “God told me to do it”? Can you imagine the family issues that might come up?

120 YEARS!

They just made a movie where they attempted to explore some of these things (EESH!). Noah was there, doing his job, suffering and building the ark. Getting his family and anything else to be saved IN the ark was a good chunk of that calling.

Noah’s Ark is the same as the Baptismal font

We are like Noah; we are kind of weird. We have baptism and we say you can be saved if you get into this big boat called the church, which, by the way, often looks like a menagerie and “God told us to build it.” People can be saved, like they were in the Ark, only through water. Baptism is the way into our Ark.

And Noah and his family were spared God’s wrath by passing through water in the Ark. The scary part is that Noah was also saved from those outside the Ark.

This is another aspect of how the analogy fits. Somewhere along the line, we also will be spared from our suffering like Noah… after our Ark is complete and the Lord shuts the door. (Genesis 7:16) And Peter says it won’t be a deluge this time (2 Peter 3:7). But until it is complete and filled with passengers and the manifest is read, we have to work and wait and suffer like Noah, giving good news to people who sometimes mock and even hate us for it…

…with the hope that some of them, indeed all of them, might be brought onboard through baptism.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Steve B

Place, Vocation, and Horse-Shoes

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Emily Dunbarby Korey Maas

Popular music has long celebrated the “desperado,” the “rolling stone,” and the “rambling man,” but has never been especially keen to rejoice in notions of vocation informed by a sense of place or permanence. This is perhaps unsurprising given the strong association of vocation with Lutheranism, and—despite Lutheranism’s long and robust musical heritage—the relative scarcity of Lutherans among those today producing anything like “popular” music (the very much underrated Lyle Lovett being a notable exception here).

I was therefore thrilled recently to get my hands on an album highly recommended by an old friend, Emily Dunbar’s 2009 Catch It When You Can. (Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of getting to know the Dunbars when Emily’s husband Paul and I studied together at Concordia Seminary.) A little bit folk, a little bit country, all Americana, Dunbar’s songs are wonderful (in the many meanings of that term) evocations—and celebrations—of the everyday graces that inhere, for example, in the rootedness of place and family.

The celebration of place, for example, is especially strong in the opening track, “Barcelona,” in which earlier international travels are recounted only to be set against the refrain:

If I had to compare the Champs-Élysées and our town square,
If asked to contrast the present with the past,
If I had to choose between Barcelona and the three of you, Barcelona would lose.

Similarly in “One Cup of Coffee,” where are extolled the simple pleasures of a lazy Saturday morning at home with coffee and the morning paper (and horse-shoes).

Vacation in the Riviera—good gravy, I declare,
I would take it, take it if it came my way.
But I won’t sit and hold my breath;
That’s one sure way to catch my death,
And I’ve got music and horse-shoes to play.

The quirky but heartfelt “John Cusack” can acknowledge the real pleasures of marriage and family while still confessing the temptation to see greener grass in other pastures.

Sometimes I dream I meet John Cusack in an airplane,
And together we fly off, and I live off his fame.

By song’s end, though, the folly of such a temptation is recognized:

If I ever meet John Cusack in an airplane,
I might ask for his autograph, and tell him I loved Say Anything
But I’d step off the plane, and I’d get out my phone,
And tell my husband and kids, I’m on my way home.

Perhaps most impressively, though, it’s “Ohio” that paints a picture of one coming eventually to recognize and to embrace the fundamental goods of place, family, and vocation. Telling the story of a small-town girl whose only dream is New York City, and whose dream is consistently thwarted by circumstance, the chorus throughout laments:

Oh my oh, Ohio,
It’s almost too sad to believe;
Oh my oh, Ohio,
She never thought she’d never leave.

Until, that is, the song’s conclusion:

Come April she’ll have a daughter,
Who’ll grow up next door to her grandfather.
Bobby loves her, they’ll be okay;
She’s set her roots down, she’s making her way in

Oh my oh, Ohio,
It’s not as bad as she once believed;
Oh my oh, Ohio,
She’s got new dreams, she don’t want to leave.

Oh my oh, Ohio,
It’s better than she ever believed;
Oh my oh, Ohio,
She’s settled down, why would she leave?

Oh my oh, Ohio,
It’s quiet there, you better believe;
Oh my oh, Ohio,
She’s happy now and she’ll never leave.

An understanding and appreciation of the goodness (and given-ness) of place and family, and the vocations attending each, can of course be taught and learned in a classroom or by means of a book. (And Lutherans have plenty of each.) Like so much of what we take to heart, though, these can also be acquired and reinforced via story and song, especially when done well. Catch It When You Can is very well done indeed, never mind its being the first album of a relatively recently self-taught musician. Especially if you’ve got any fondness for country or folk music, I’d encourage you to grab a copy at the link above, thus helping to make possible a follow-up. Or, at least, a new set of horse-shoes.

Korey D. Maas (DPhil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.

By Ted R