Posted on February 28, 2010 by Scott Kistler
John Piper’s yearly Sanctity of Life Sunday sermon, “Born Blind for the Glory of God,” contained this powerful quote from The Weekly Standard:
With the development of prenatal genetic diagnosis, the drive toward eugenics has returned with a vengeance. Americans may heartily cheer participants in the Special Olympics, but we abort some 90 percent of all gestating infants diagnosed with genetic disabilities such as Down Syndrome, dwarfism, and spina bifida.
It’s obviously not a new fact, but it’s a contrast that can’t be made often enough. I saw a little girl with Down Syndrome singing in the children’s choir at church this morning, and I have good friends whose beloved son is a teenager with Down Syndrome. It’s terrifying to think that in many families, they simply would not have been allowed to be born.
The article by Wesley Smith that Piper quotes can be found here.
Filed under: Sanctity of Life | Tagged: abortion, John Piper, people with disabilities, Wesley Smith | 3 Comments »
Posted on February 22, 2010 by Scott Kistler
Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World recounts the struggle between the Ottoman Empire and shifting coalitions of European countries for control of the Mediterranean Sea. The first major event is the Ottoman assault on the island of Rhodes, controlled by the Knights of Saint John or the Hospitallers, a Crusading order that found its home on Rhodes (taking it from Greek Christians) after being driven from the Holy Land. The knights, now known as the Knights of Malta, had conducted piracy against the Ottomans and were the target of one of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s opening campaigns. Ottoman Sultans tended to begin their reigns with campaigns against non-Muslims to justify their rule. In 1565, near the close of Suleiman’s reign, the Ottomans again attacked the stronghold of the Knights of Saint John, this time on Malta. Five years later, the navy of the Holy League, a coalition of Spanish, papal, and Venetian galleys, defeated the Ottoman in a major battle at Lepanto that mostly ended the Mediterranean wars. Crowley fills the accounts of these battles with great detail. The religious rituals and symbols of the rivals – Muslims chanting the Qur’an, Christian sails depicting Christ crucified, Muslim banners with the 99 names of God, the church service that commissioned Don Juan as commander of the Holy League – accompany grinding descriptions of siege and naval warfare. (more…)
Filed under: Middle East and Islamic World, Reformation and Early Modern Europe | Tagged: early modern world, Ottoman Empire, Roger Crowley | Leave a Comment »
Posted on February 20, 2010 by Scott Kistler
In Christianizing the Roman Empire (thanks for the book recommendation, Joel!), MacMullen tries to stay close to the written record in explaining why people converted to Christianity when it was illegal. He argues that most of the evidence suggests that non-Christians converted because miraculous cures and exorcisms showed them the power of God. Early Christian sources record that “exorcist” was a special office in the church. He tries to synthesize the evidence to conjecture about how this might have been lived out:
Testing to see if I can imagine in some detail a scene that conflicts with no point of the little that is known about conversion in the second and third centuries, I would choose the room of some sick person: there, a servant talking to a mistress, or one spouse to another, saying, perhaps, “Unquestionably they can help, if you believe. And I know, I have seen, I have heard, they have related to me, they have books, they have a special person, a sort of officer. It is true. Besides and anyway, if you don’t believe, then you are doomed when a certain time comes, so say the prophecies; whereas, if you do, they they can help even in great sickness. I know people who have seen or who have spoken with others who have seen. And healing is even the least that they tell. Theirs is truly a God all-powerful. He has worked a hundred wonders.” So the priest is sent for, or an exorcist; illness is healed; the household after that counts as Christian; it is baptized; and through instruction it comes to accept the first consequences: that all other cults are false and wicked, all seeming gods, the same.” (40-41)
UPDATE (2/22/10): I added a world that I unwittingly omitted from MacMullen’s quote.
Filed under: Early Church | Tagged: early Christianity, evangelism, Ramsay MacMullen | 4 Comments »
Posted on February 17, 2010 by Scott Kistler
Peter Leithart passes on an observation from William Cavanaugh’s Theopolitical Imagination: the Reformation took hold in kingdoms where unresolved tensions remained between the monarchy and the papacy. In France and Spain, the papacy had ceded powers to the kings, and thus the monarchies lacked a critical incentive to support a break with the church. England, Scandinavian kingdoms, and some of the German states supported the Reformation, as did some French nobles who resisted the French king’s quest to centralize powers. I had not thought about those differences before.
I’ve found the political context of the Reformation to be just as interesting as, although less edifying than, the theological disputes. With the evolution of centralized monarchies in Europe from the 1000s to the 1600s, the Reformation came at a time of transition for the kingdoms of Europe, as power was shifting toward kings and the central state and away from the nobles and papacy. Some kingdoms, like the Holy Roman Empire, never were able to make that transition. So the ambitions of kings, princes, and nobles (as well as nobles’ and peasants’ desires to protect their traditional rights) combined with doctrinal issues and discontent with church power and corruption to shake up all of Western Christendom.
Filed under: Reformation and Early Modern Europe | Tagged: Church and State, Peter Leithart, William Cavanaugh | Leave a Comment »
Posted on February 15, 2010 by Scott Kistler
I taught a lesson based on Life Together in our Twenties and Thirties group today. I figured I’d post the notes for anyone’s dissections, comments, and criticisms.
- Text: Romans 5:1-11 [group discussion]
- If we believe what Paul has written, what does this mean for our relationship with God?
- If we believe what Paul has written, what does this mean for our relationship with each other?
- Importance of the gospel
- Bonhoeffer has a lot of good advice, but it’s all rooted in the good news [I borrowed this illustration from John Piper's summary of a Doug Wilson sermon - should have made this clear in class when I taught it!]
- If we don’t believe in the gospel, all of this just becomes “how to be nice” or won’t make any sense, because it’s all rooted in the reality of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ: bringing us into fellowship with him and with each other
- Ephesians study [we studied this over the summer]:[Two members of our group] both pointed out that the first three chapters explained the glory of salvation and the wonder of being united together in Christ – then came the moral teachings, which only truly make sense in the light of the first three chapters
- Why Life Together?
- If God has united us all in Christ and we seek to be a close group, it’s good to consider the perspective of someone who’s thought about this
- Not just TNT, but generally: I get the sense that when there are awkward moments, offense is taken, mistakes are made, that these get talked about with everyone except the people that should be talking about it
- Bonhoeffer challenges our radical cultural individualism, but doesn’t erase us as individuals – he roots our value as individuals firmly in God
- Community is great, but we also must be alone with God
- We shouldn’t seek fellowship simply because we can’t be bear to be alone: aloneness and fellowship feed on each other
- Our times of meditation on the Bible and prayer are tested by this standard: do they truly equip us for the task of living holy lives in the world? This is better than having an emotional experience.
- Rest in our justification
- We have the tendency to justify ourselves: my sin is not as bad as this person’s, my value is determined by what I am, I deserve God’s favor, my mistakes are understandable, I need to protect my rights all the time
- But these things aren’t true and also choke community with others
- Instead, we can substitute two ministries
- Holding our tongues from speaking judgment or condemnation about each other, in most cases, allows others to be themselves in Christ
- Meekness, which refrains from always asserting our rights and bears wrongs of others, understanding where their sins come from
- All of us can find forgiveness only in Christ
- Listen to each other
- We need to truly listen to each other without the feeling that we know what they are going to say
- Within this context, we can also confess our sins to each other
- Sin can make us feel isolated from each other, which is what Satan wants
- Can assure us of forgiveness and can break any trap of self-forgiveness as we confess to another person
- Loving each other through Christ
- He’s very interested in the idea that we are all individuals who are both bound together in Christ but still independent from each other – we’re called to bear with each other, which we must do because people are different from us and have freedom from us
- They sin, which means that we must forgive and bear with each other
- Even when people don’t sin, they call for us to bear with differences
- Human love wants to control: it sees the object of my love as my project, molding that person into my image
- Spiritual love loves through Christ: that person is God’s project being shaped into the image of Christ by God, and therefore we leave that person “the freedom to be Christ’s”
- Within the context of listening, helping, meekness, and forgiveness, we can proclaim God’s word to each other, spur one another on, and even help to redirect someone heading in the wrong direction
- In groups, what helps you to have a sense of Christian community? What more can we do?
Filed under: 20th Century and Beyond, Church Life | Tagged: Christian living, Dietrich Bonhoeffer | 2 Comments »
Posted on February 14, 2010 by Scott Kistler
In Life Together, Bonhoeffer seems really interested exploring the implications of the idea that we’re individual people justified in Christ who are bound together in Christ (I discussed some this here). While his words offer a challenge to the radical individualism of our culture, he does not erase individuals but rather roots the value of individuals in God. He writes that we often have a tendency to engage in “self-justification,” which can lead to criticism of others and easily taking offense at others, rather than resting our justification by God’s grace. Confidence in our justification by grace means that we can forgive others in light of God’s forgiveness and see them as people who display “the richness of God’s creative glory” (93).
For Bonhoeffer, a major part of living with other Christians is recognizing that we cannot and should not control them to shape into what we wish them to be; they are God’s people as we are. This means that they are not our projects, but God’s projects, just as we are. Therefore, even when we must confront a believer in his or her sin, it must be in the knowledge that God and His Word judge them, not us.
Life Together doesn’t get into the issue of how we can love non-Christians, and there are sometimes that the version that I read sounded universalistic (whether because of the original or the translator). But from my reading, the rest of the book wouldn’t support that interpretation of those passages. I tried to think about how Bonhoeffer’s paradigm for loving other Christians might apply to loving non-Christians, and I think that the teachings about love in Life Together can be extended in two ways. First, the unbeliever is still an individual independent from us whom we cannot and should not control. Like our fellow Christians, we should not want to mold this person but rather we should pray that God will do it; an unbeliever is no more our personal project than a fellow believer is. Second, just as we relate to our fellow Christians through Christ, we can recognize that we have nothing to offer the world except through Jesus Christ. Even our talents and service we offer in Christ’s name. And so we hope to be used by God to bring those who are alienated from Him into relationship with Him through Jesus.
Filed under: 20th Century and Beyond, Church Life | Tagged: Christian living, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, evangelism | Leave a Comment »
Posted on February 14, 2010 by Scott Kistler
Bonhoeffer writes in Chapter 2 of Life Together that a fellowship of Christians should engage in “consecutive reading” of the Bible, reading daily one chapter of the Old Testament and half a chapter of the New Testament, rather than reading brief selections of texts (though those have their place). This “forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men” (53). This changes the usual need to feel that God is present:
A complete reversal occurs. It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is “external to ourselves.” I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his Cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.
In this light the whole devotional reading of the Scriptures becomes daily more meaningful and salutary. What we call our life, our troubles, our guilt, is by no means all of reality; there in the Scriptures is our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation. Because it pleased God to act for us there, it is only there that we shall be saved. Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God and Father of Jesus Christ and our Father. (54)
Filed under: 20th Century and Beyond, Church Life | Tagged: Christian living, Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Leave a Comment »
Posted on February 14, 2010 by Scott Kistler
He writes that the confidence that comes through God’s gracious justification allows us to place others above ourselves. He continues:
One who lives by justification by grace is willing and ready to accept even insults and injuries without protest, taking them from God’s punishing and gracious hand. It is not a good sign when we can no longer bear to hear this said without immediately retorting that even Paul upon his rights as a Roman citizen, and that Jesus replied to the man who struck, “Why smitest thou me?” In any case, none of us will really act as Jesus and Paul did if we have not first learned, like them, to keep silent under abuse. The sin of resentment that flares up so quickly in the fellowship indicates again and again how much false desire for honor, how much unbelief, still smolders in the community.
Source: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, translated by John W. Doberstein, p. 96.
Filed under: 20th Century and Beyond, Church Life | Tagged: Christian living, Dietrich Bonhoeffer | 9 Comments »
Posted on February 11, 2010 by Scott Kistler
I like a good nickname. Today the best ones seem to belong to athletes, but royalty used to have some pretty sweet ones too. I don’t know much about the Byzantine emperors, but in my Western Civ textbook I’ve found two emperors with good nicknames: Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (Wikipedia translates this “purple-born,” which is OK, but I like the way that the Greek sounds) and Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer (disclaimer: I have nothing against Bulgars). Basil’s nickname is a reminder that we are much more cautious about glorifying the killing of our enemies than people were centuries ago. It’s hard to see an American president wanting to be known for his animosity toward an entire people.
With the Ottoman Empire, lots of people now note that there’s a trope of “decline” after Suleiman’s death in 1566 that’s probably overstated. After all, the Ottomans nearly took Vienna in 1683 before the Poles came to the aid of the Habsburgs (Poland was repaid by Austria, Prussia, and Russia
partionining partitioning Poland out of existence in the 1700s). But there seems to have been a decline in leadership after Suleiman. Some of the nicknames of the great sultans: Mehmet the Conqueror, Selim the Inexorable (or the Grim), and Suleiman the Magnificent. Then, you’ve got Selim II the Sot. So when you go from the Magnificent to the Sot, that seems like a big part of the problem.
Filed under: General | Tagged: Byzantine Empire, nicknames, Ottoman Empire | Leave a Comment »
Posted on February 11, 2010 by Scott Kistler
My friend Rick at Endued posted Justin’s explanation to his Jewish friend Trypho about why spiritual gifts were transferred from Jews to Christ to Christians. I had never thought about spiritual gifts in the Old Covenant before, but Justin certainly had:
Now, that [you may know that] your prophets, each receiving some one or two powers from God, did and spoke the things which we have learned from the Scriptures, attend to the following remarks of mine. Solomon possessed the spirit of wisdom, Daniel that of understanding and counsel, Moses that of might and piety, Elijah that of fear, and Isaiah that of knowledge; and so with the others: each possessed one power, or one joined alternately with another; also Jeremiah, and the twelve [prophets], and David, and, in short, the rest who existed amongst you.
Rick cites Ronald Kydd’s argument that this is evidence that these charismatic gifts continued in the 2nd century.
Filed under: Early Church | Tagged: Church Fathers, Justin Martyr, Rick Hogaboam, Ronald Kydd, spiritual gifts | Leave a Comment »