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By In Books, Politics

Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World

To make the Christian faith plausible to the secular mind, we either have to (1) de-mystify their Scriptures or (2) re-enchant their cosmos. In addition to the later apologetic being more truthful, it’s also more beautiful. In his new book Recapturing the Wonder (available here), Mike Cosper has written a truly beautiful book—one able to re-enchant the world of even the most jaded modern. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton, Cosper shows that there is indeed a path—paved in ancient practices—to transcendence in an age of materialism and consumerism. As a High School teacher, I’ll certainly be using the content of the book in classes for years to come. The book is especially apropos for college students. Were I organizing a reading scheme for a CCO/InterVarsity/RUF leadership team, Recapturing the Wonder would be at the top of my list this semester. To whet your appetite, below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Ours is an age where our sense of spiritual possibility, transcendence, and the presence of God has been drained out. What’s left is a spiritual desert, and Christians face the temptation to accept the dryness of that desert as the only possible world. We have enough conviction and faith to be able to call ourselves believers, but we’re compelled to look for ways to live out a Christian life without transcendence and without the active presence of God, practicing what Dallas Willard once called ‘biblical deism’—a strange bastardization of Christianity that acts as though, once the Bible was written, God left us to sort things out for ourselves.”

“Technology has given us the sense that everything within the universe can be made to appear to our senses and harnessed for our purposes. It may be meaningless, but it can be comprehended and mastered. This mastery, though, is a bit of an illusion as well. The accumulated body of scientific knowledge can tell us all about the canvas, oils, and minerals that combine to make a work of art, but they cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

“We hunger for that kind of know-how, for a relationship with Scripture that leads to something deeper than head knowledge. We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God, but we’re so afraid of getting something wrong that we either avoid Scripture altogether or treat it as a cold, dead abstraction, unable to connect it to real life.”

“In a disenchanted world, we have our own overarching narrative, and its cornerstone is progress—a sense that the world is moving from disorder to order, that humanity is improving not just biologically and evolutionarily but morally, intellectually, and spiritually.”

“The power of habit is in the way it tunes our body and soul to anticipate a return to the rhythm. We’re primed for it, and when we’re starved of it, we’ll feel pangs of hunger.”

“Regular is a word that needs some redemption in our modern usage. We’re so used to superlatives that we tend to be dismissive and suspect of the ordinary. We don’t want regular; we want super-sized awesomeness. But regular is a good word, and it’s important to embrace it in two senses here. Regular means ordinary. But regular also refers to time. We need solitude to be regular in the sense that it’s repeated— a rhythm we return to as Jesus did.”

“Consuming is about possession, and consuming something uses it up. The end goal of a fast food meal is a pile of empty wrappers. The end goal of most consumer products is obsolescence. We are not meant to dwell with cars, smartphones, and running shoes—not for long, anyway. These things are meant to be used up, and once used up, disposed of or recycled into something new.”

“Reading about the lives of saints, I don’t see immovable giants. Instead, I see Merton falling in love with a nurse and having an affair. I see Brennan Manning fighting a life-long battle with alcohol abuse. I see Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones—two of the greatest preachers in the English language—fighting lifelong battles with depression. But Merton came home to the monastery, Manning died declaring ‘all is grace,’ and Spurgeon and Jones kept preaching the gospel… Somehow, grace abounds in a world full of sorrows.”

“Follow Jesus if you must, seek the face of God if you must, but don’t be surprised if, after a while, it feels like you’ve been battling angels in the darkness. Seeking God’s face in a fallen world is not the easy life; it’s the good life.”

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By In Books, Podcast

Episode 9, What Should a Pastor Read?

What should a pastor’s reading list and library look like? Should his reading be limited to serious theological tomes and commentaries?

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Uri Brito explains how our patterns and choices in reading can reflect a more Trinitarian approach that includes a broader variety of reading.

Subscribe to the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast on iTunes and Google Play.

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By In Books, Culture, Theology

How Optional Is The Benedict Option?: A Brief Review

“It may be the devil,” one Nobel laureate has opined, “or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

There is an irony, then—and a difficulty—in the title of Rod Dreher’s latest book, The Benedict Option. He paints a bleak picture of Christianity’s future in a “Post-Christian” nation, barring a radical shift in the American Church’s self-understanding. “Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or,” Dreher worries, “does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?” (12). If the latter proves true—as Dreher suggests—then at many points the way of life he presents under the auspices of “the Benedict Option” seems like the only viable alternative to cultural and ecclesial death in America. That is to say, the Benedict Option is not, strictly speaking, optional. That fact is not so much a difficulty for Dreher, though, as for his critics.

Dreher really had little choice but to orient his book to the pre-existing scheme of a “Benedict Option,” since it was the tapestry of lively and controversial discussions around the “Option” that created the demand for the book in the first place. Meanwhile, his own understanding of the Option seems never to have been confined to the historical person of St. Benedict or his rule for monastic living. He refers to Alasdair MacIntyre’s discussion of a bankrupt and decrepit Roman society, out of which St. Benedict emerged. “Saint Benedict had taken the proper measure of Rome. He acted wisely by leaving society and starting a new community whose practices would preserve the faith through the trials ahead” (18). Benedict, then, is a fitting figurehead for a Church preparing to radically adjust its way of living in the West. The life may not be optional in Dreher’s mind, but it seems safe to assume the name is. As a result, critics who fixate on the absence of Benedict or Benedictine practices from whole sections of the book will miss engaging with Dreher and his true intentions.

A Benedict Option way of life is one committed to creating and living within ‘parallel structures’ or a ‘parallel polis,’ “separate but porous societ[ies]…in which the truth can be lived in community” (93). Dreher sees these markedly Christian societies existing alongside the dominant sociopolitical order, but engendering a distinct identity among their members. “Think of teachers who make sure kids learn things they won’t get at government schools,” Dreher suggests. “Think of writers who write what they really believe and find ways to get it to the public, no matter what the cost. Think of priests and pastors who find a way to live out religious life despite condemnation and legal obstacles, and artists who don’t give a rip for official opinion. Think of young people who decide not to care about success in society’s eyes and who drop out to pursue a life of integrity, no matter what it costs them. These people who refuse to assimilate and instead build their own structures are living the Benedict Option” (95). Christians aren’t being tortured and killed in the U.S., but in a nation where many Christian University campuses aren’t distinguishable from secular ones and where church services feature Memorial Day sermons on Ascension Sunday, a little cultural antithesis might be in order.

Another reviewer points to a real ambiguity in Dreher’s thinking at this point: are “Christians called to sustain communities of faithful witness within a powerful but hostile Empire for decades and centuries to come, or are we called to establish havens of order and virtue in the chaotic ruins of a collapsed civilization until we can rebuild strong cultural and political institutions?” The answer, I think, is two-fold. If, on the one hand, the exact nature of this option is at times ambiguous, it may be due to the fact that the option encompasses the whole of life. In that sense, it is not easy to wrap one’s mind (or a few clever sentences chapters books around). In that sense, too, it is not, strictly speaking, optional. At one point, Dreher shares this snippet from a conversation about the B.O.: “People are like, ‘This Benedict Option thing, it’s just being Christian, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes!…But people won’t do it unless you call it something different. It’s just the church being what the church is supposed to be, but if you give it a name, that makes people care” (142). If, then, ‘Benedict Option’ is simply code for orthodox Christianity, one might expect it to adapt (without compromise, of course) to every new age, as the Church has always done. (more…)

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By In Books, Culture, Family and Children, Interviews, Theology, Wisdom

Teaching Redemption Redemptively: Theological Educators in Dialog

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Aside from actually teaching, nothing has aided my growth as an educator more than talking with experienced, respected teachers; particularly those in my discipline: theology/worldview. It’s hard to think of two living teachers more esteemed in the field than Dan Kunkle and Dan Ribera.

Mr. Kunkle has been the longtime worldview teacher at Phil-Mont Christian Academy in Philadelphia, PA (to learn more about Kunkle, check this out). And on the other coast, Dr. Ribera teaches bible at Bellevue Christian School just outside of Seattle, WA (to learn more about Ribera, check this out). Together, they have close to 80 years of teaching experience.

I recently engaged in some shoptalk with the Dans (Dani?). While I had high expectations for the exchange, I couldn’t have anticipated just how rich their insights would be. With permission, that conversation is reproduced below: (more…)

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By In Books

Review of the True Saint Nicholas by Bill Bennett

There are too many unknown facts, as Bill Bennett rightly asserts. Much of the historical data is purely speculative except a few references, poems, and prayers in honor of Saint Nicholas. The Roman Catholic tradition has largely exorcised ol’ St. Nicholas from the Church, while the Eastern Orthodox tradition continues to celebrate his life every December 6th.

Bennett provides a pleasant read filled with fantastical stories and a delightful context to the Bishop of Myra.

The records at the very least seem to concur with the general perception that the Saint Nicholas that existed in the days of Constantine (yes, he most likely slapped Arius!) was indeed filled with generosity and abounding in love for all sorts of people.

Bennett illustrates that Saint Nicholas, the Bishop, had become commercialized only a few centuries after his death. The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well in those days. The life of Saint Nicholas was being used to sell and to attract business. This commercialization is no different than the Americanized Santa Claus (invented much later in the 20th century).

At the same time, it is important to note that abuses are always prone to happen and that simply doing away with the figure to avoid the tough questions is no way to handle the matter. Rather, there is a legitimate way to use the history of Saint Nicholas, and its subsequent re-adaptation–with all its colors and jolly-ness–to draw us and our children’s attention to those rare gifts and virtues of the Christian faith.

Bill Bennett connects the new Santa Claus with the faithful Bishop who suffered and lived for the sake of his Lord. The connection provides us with a sound knowledge of the origins of this delightfully rotund figure loved by many whose history is frequently forgotten. The book offered a portrait of an ancient figure whose life was dedicated to the giving of gifts and to relieving the suffering of many. For this reason, Saint Nicholas is to be celebrated and remembered.

 

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By In Books, Theology

Antimodern Presbyterianism: Challenging the Spirit of the Age

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After writing my piece comparing Mercersburg Theology with Neo Calvinism, my online-friend Gregory Baus pointed out that the tenets I was describing can be found in the best, if not the whole, of the Presbyterian tradition. As an example, he pointed to Sean Michael Lucas’ definitive biography of Robert Lewis Dabney, specifically his chapter dealing with Dabney’s public theology. Below is a short excerpt from that chapter, of interest to those Presbyterians concerned with cultivating an ancient, “antimodern” faith:

dabney“Dabney’s strong adherence to an older faith placed him closer to antimodernists, who were discovering ancient religions such as Buddhism or rediscovering Catholicism, than to New South Presbyterians, who downplayed their creeds in order to influence Southern Culture….

In a gilded age that made the seemingly impossible possible though unprecedented technological manipulation, antimodernists sought a refuge in otherworldly faiths, which proclaimed a transcendent deity who was shrouded in mystery.

Though most scholars have failed to recognize the possibility that Old School Calvinism—as maintained at Princeton Seminary or defended by Dabney—could be as antimodern as Buddhism or Anglo-Catholicism, for Dabney it appeared that the older faith in a transcendent, sovereign deity both put him out of step with the prevailing modernist spirit of the age and provided resources to challenge the modern age of the Spirit.”

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By In Books, Culture, Family and Children

The Glass Castle: How to “Skedaddle” Through Life

Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

 

The Glass Castle is the compelling memoir of Jeannette Walls. Written in 2005, The Glass Castle follows the various exploits of a family’s drunken father and free-spirit mother. As of last month, Lionsgate began filming a Hollywood adaption of the book. The movie is anticipated for release in 2017 featuring Brie Larson (who also starred in the critically acclaimed “Room” in 2015), Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson. The book exposes the cultural challenges of the post-modern family and the vulnerabilities of a family outside of the Christian Church. The morality of “independence” is challenged as the memoir painfully connects “free spirit” parenting to neglected, abused, and resentful children. (more…)

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