Accessible Anglicans

In a 2014 post “The Invisible Anglicanism of CS Lewis,” Jake Meador notes something that I have noticed before:

Any student of recent Christian history will, of course, be unsurprised to find an Anglican doing marvelous work while writing as a broadly orthodox Christian. Lewis is simply one of many to do so. Consider his contemporary (and sometimes rival) TS Eliot, or later 20th century preachers like John Stott and JI Packer. Most recently, N.T. Wright has risen to prominence on the back of both impressive scholarly works and accessible popular writings. ([Alan] Jacobs himself likely deserves a mention here as well for his essays and writings on reading and technology, amongst many other topics.) Wes Hill, though very young, seems another promising example of this trend based on his fine work Washed and Waiting.

Catholic readers seeking to understand Lewis’s depth and orientation toward the world need not chase down fanciful (and, when one actually thinks about it, rather insulting) theories of “Ulsterior” motives that kept Lewis from simply crossing the Tiber like all good Christian humanists apparently should. They simply need to understand that he was an Anglican and that Anglicans seem to have a particular talent for distilling complex Christian truth into clear, accessible language that anyone can understand. What Lewis was doing in books like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain is simply another species of what Stott did in The Cross of Christ or what Wright did in books like Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope.

The problem of secular education, concisely stated

Current Wheaton College and former University of Washington professor Robert Tracy McKenzie:

For all of its discrete strengths, the university is less than the sum of its parts. Like the secular academy overall, it is “hollow at its core,” to borrow the words of historian George Marsden. There is no common foundation, no cohering vision, no basis for meaningful unity. After twenty-two years of faculty meetings, I can attest to the truth that the faculty functioned best as a group when we avoided larger questions about our collective mission and purpose. As long as we could each do our own thing we were fine.

Not that any form of education is challenge-free, of course, but this is a perceptive observation.

The connection between the law of nature and human nature

The Abolition of Man The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lewis famously defended Christianity by appealing to the universal moral law in Mere Christianity. In The Abolition of Man, he argues that modern thought denies the existence of the moral law, which he calls the Tao. He makes a compelling argument that educational and scientific programs that detach themselves from the moral law do not liberate but actually enslave people. At under 100 pages, it’s worth reading to see if you agree.

View all my reviews

A Trinitarian universe

Peter Leithart summarized Henry Morris’ contention that the makeup of the universe parallels the interrelationship between the persons of the Trinity.

Morris suggests that the world has a fundamentally triadic structure.  Creation consists of the triad of space, time, and matter, which are coinherent yet distinct; and each of these features of creation is itself triadically structured.He writes, “the interrelationships between the three persons of the godhead are closely similar to the relationships between the three entities of the physical universe. As the Son manifests and embodies the Father, so the phenomena of matter represent, as it were, intangible space in a form discernible to the senses. Though space is everywhere, it is itself quite invisible and seemingly unreal, were it not that phenomena of all kinds are continually and everywhere taking place in space and thus manifesting its existence. The phenomena themselves when observed closely, are found to be essentially nothing but space (the atomic structure of matter, for example, whether conceived as particles or waves, consists almost wholly of space). And yet the phenomena (matter and energy) are most definitely real and discernible to the senses and to measurement. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, again invisible and omnipresent, with the function of interpreting and applying the nature and work of the Son and the Father. Likewise, time is the universal concept within which the significance of space and matter must be interpreted and applied. Time itself only becomes meaningful in terms of the phenomena and material and processes that are everywhere manifest in space.”

Thus, “The physical universe as we know it, therefore, is in its nature wonderfully analogous to the nature of its Creator. The continuum of space and matter and time — each distinct and yet inseparably interrelated with the other two and occupying the whole of the universe — is remarkably parallel in character to what has been revealed concerning the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each distinct and yet each inseparably identified with the other two, and each equally and eternally God. Space is the invisible, omnipresent background of all things, everywhere displaying phenomena of matter and/or energy (which are interconvertible) that are, in turn, experienced in time. Just so, the Father is the invisible, omnipresent source of all being, manifested and declared by the eternal Word, the Son, who is, in turn, experienced in the Spirit.”

According to Leithart, Morris also contends that one can see the Trinity within space (length, width, and breadth) and matter (energy, motion, and phenomenon).  Check out Leithart’s whole post for more.

Those with a better understanding of science than I have: what do you think about Morris’ ideas?

Hope under tyrrany

I finally read Animal Farm recently.  I had read 1984 about 15 years ago and enjoyed it, but had never followed it up with Orwell’s other famous work.  I was struck by the way that both novels end it such a bleak place, with the terrible system triumphing over any resistance.  In his introduction to a volume that combines these two novels, Christopher Hitchens writes that 1984 “makes an almost conscious attempt to destroy the very concept of hope” (x).  That’s a pretty good way of putting it.

Hitchens’ description got me thinking.  Orwell seems to have rejected Christianity (from what I can tell, especially the part of this article that I could access), and Hitchens is famous for his antitheism.  Yet one of the great sources of hope, at least in the latter years of communist Eastern Europe, was the Christian faith (especially Catholicism, from my understanding).  Pope John Paul II and the Solidarity movement were critical in the defeat of Polish communism and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia has been noted for his faith.  You can also click here for a video about activities at a Lutheran church in Leipzig (East Germany) in the 1980s.

So the belief in Christ that Orwell and Hitchens rejected turned out to be an important part of defeating the tyranny that they despised.

You may have heard that Christopher Hitchens has cancer.  I hope very much and pray that he will put aside his fierce opposition to God and see that in Christ, he does have true hope.

Peter Hitchens on faith and his relationship with his brother Christopher

Peter Hitchens writes a poignant article about his own return to faith and his relationship with his brother, one of the English-speaking world’s most famous atheists.  It’s worth reading for his discussion of why he believes (and his brother doesn’t), the role of faith in society, and the evolution of his and Christopher’s relationship.  Here is one passage that showed both his commitment and his gentle understanding of his brother:

I do not loathe atheists, as Christopher claims to loathe believers. I am not angered by their failure to see what appears obvious to me. I understand that they see differently. I do think that they have reasons for their belief, as I have reasons for mine, which are the real foundations of this argument.
It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.
It is also my view that, as with all atheists, he is his own chief opponent. As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him. His arguments are to some extent internally coherent and are a sort of explanation – if not the best explanation – of the world and the universe.
He often assumes that moral truths are self-evident, attributing purpose to the universe and swerving dangerously round the problem of conscience – which surely cannot be conscience if he is right since the idea of conscience depends on it being implanted by God. If there is no God then your moral qualms might just as easily be the result of indigestion.
Yet Christopher is astonishingly unable to grasp that these assumptions are problems for his argument. This inability closes his mind to a great part of the debate, and so makes his atheist faith insuperable for as long as he himself chooses to accept it.
One of the problems atheists have is the unbelievers’ assertion that it is possible to determine what is right and what is wrong without God. They have a fundamental inability to concede that to be effectively absolute a moral code needs to be beyond human power to alter.
On this misunderstanding is based my brother Christopher’s supposed conundrum about whether there is any good deed that could be done only by a religious person, and not done by a Godless one. Like all such questions, this contains another question: what is good, and who is to decide what is good?
Left to himself, Man can in a matter of minutes justify the incineration of populated cities; the deportation, slaughter, disease and starvation of inconvenient people and the mass murder of the unborn.
I have heard people who believe themselves to be good, defend all these things, and convince themselves as well as others. Quite often the same people will condemn similar actions committed by different countries, often with great vigour.
For a moral code to be effective, it must be attributed to, and vested in, a non-human source. It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it to suit itself.
Its most powerful expression is summed up in the words ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.

Hat tip: Joel’s Facebook

Christians and the origins of life

It seems to have been a quieter time recently in the ongoing discussions, debates, and wars of words about the origins of life.  But recently I’ve been wondering how much Christians with different perspectives are in communication with each other.

I wonder this especially about those who defend a literal, young-earth reading of the Genesis creation story: do they run the risk of believing that they are carrying the “Christian” banner on this issue without realizing that not all Christians are behind them?  Although I lean toward a theistic evolution interpretation, I’m not writing this to criticize other positions.  My concern is more about communication between Christians.  Do we as Christians communicate with and understand each other well on this topic?  If not, wouldn’t that be an important dialogue to have with fellow believers?  What do you think?

It would seem to me that the toughest thing for an evangelical holding to the theistic evolutionist position is the risk of undermining the special status of human beings, one of the critical teachings of the Christian faith.  In fact, modernist former bishop John Shelby Spong (not an evangelical) argues that Darwinism destroys the whole idea of the gospel as redeeming us, because there never was perfection.  Evangelical genetics expert Francis Collins and the Catholic Church both embrace theistic evolution and propose answers to this challenge, but it remains a difficult issue.

The risk for a literal interpretation is ignoring the large amounts of evidence for evolution.  I don’t mean that it’s all conclusively proven beyond any doubt, but it is overwhelmingly affirmed by scientists.  Whether or not people are convinced by that fact, it’s important that to acknowledge that the widespread agreement exists.

The risk for intelligent design advocates, as Francis Collins has pointed out in his book The Language of God, is that it is a God in the gaps theory, which fills God in where we don’t understand things.  The problem with this is that is pushes Him out when we do.

Here’s a sampling of three Christians’ views (and the view of one atheist) from a while back.  Collins (theistic evolution) is an evangelical scientist, Behe (intelligent design) is a Catholic scientist, and Mohler (young-earth creationism) is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Another example of Christian diversity on this topic is the last chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, where he discusses evolution as a way to discuss the idea of the “new creation” that God makes possible in Christ.  And Francis Collins quotes Lewis’ The Problem of Pain at length on human evolution in Collins’ book that I mentioned above (see pages 208-209).

It looks like a recent issue of Christianity Today has an article by Alister McGrath on the origins of life that I hope to read soon.