Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sullivan Ballou and the Hope of Joy to Come

According to a forthcoming biography on Sullivan Ballou: “At the age of thirty-four, less than ten years after meeting the love of his life, Sarah Shumway, Ballou left his law practice and budding political career, his wife and two young sons, and took a commission as a major in the Union Army.”

Sullivan Ballou would be long forgotten had it not been for Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. As the letter was read at the end of the first episode, the background music was a lament on fiddle entitled Ashokan Farewell—a hauntingly beautiful piece that I cannot hear too many times. (You can listen to a clip in Real Player or Windows Media.)

Here is the moving letter, in its entirely, that Sullivan wrote to his wife Sarah. It was written just a week before the Battle of Bull Run.

July 14, 1861

Sarah Ballou

Washington, D.C.

Dear Sarah,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps tomorrow. Less I shall not be able to write you again, I feel compelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the revolution. I am willing, perfectly willing, to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is depthless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break. Yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield. The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me. I feel most deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them for so long. How hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes our hopes and future years when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been. How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more. But, oh Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and fly unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you on the brightest day and the darkest night. Always. Always. When the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath. When the cool air caresses your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not morn me dead. Think I am gone and wait for me. We shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Your loving husband,

Sullivan Ballou

Major Ballou was killed at the first Battle of Bull Run, a week after writing this letter, and after only two months of service.

Ravi Zacharias comments:

I wonder how many in today’s work-a-day-world could pen such timeless thoughts? This skill of words and beauty is part of the good news in our world. We must learn to read again if the heart is to be kept tender.

And no good news is as good for life and tenderness as the good news of the Gospel. The tear in the eye of the woman with the alabaster ointment won her a place alongside the Gospel. Her coarsened heart broke open before her Lord’s kind words of mercy. Our Lord Jesus, Himself, wept at the grave of a friend—not because He could not raise him from the dead, but because He could—and the tear was a revelation of a life that knew good so well that it wept when it could see even the temporariness of the bad.

Hope, said Eleanor Stump, is painful because it is yet to be. With that hope, we can weep for the tragedy of a life that sheds innocent blood because it barricaded itself from hope. Only in eternity will hope be in perfect fulfillment and weeping ended. A century ago the song-writer George Matheson understood this well and expressed it in the third verse of his magnificent hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go:

O joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to Thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be.

In the face of such letters of despair I thank God for these beautiful words of hope.


What Books Are Most Influential for Pastors?

Barna did the survey. Tim Challies has the recap.

Paige Patterson

Al Mohler summarizes a recent booklet by Paige Patterson that provides a first-hand account of the reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention. Mohler writes:

More than any other individual, Paige Patterson was the man who put all at risk for the sake of what he so profoundly believed. Confronted by a looming denominational disaster, and aware of what this would mean to the cause of the Gospel, Paige Patterson threw himself into the controversy, defined the issues, mobilized an army, educated a denomination, and paved the way for a new generation to continue the work he so boldly began.

"Deep Throat" Revealed

Washington's best-kept secret--the identity of "Deep Throat," Woodward and Bernstein's secret source in the Watergate scandal--is apparently no longer a secret. It's W. Mark Felt, Deputy Associate Director of the FBI in the 1970s. Now 91 years old, Felt says that he was "Deep Throat." The full story will appear in an interview with Vanity Fair.

Reading, Writing, and Keeping Your Heart Tender

Ravi Zacharias offers some sagacious counsel:

Over the years, there are a handful of authors I have read who have kept the heart tender. I am most grateful to them. For example, one is F.W. Boreham, the noted English essayist, whose essays are compiled in over forty volumes. Yes, I have every one of them, and they are hard to find, because they are out of print. For years, I have read a chapter from one of his books every day. What is it about his writing that tenderizes the heart?

First and foremost, his essays are thoughtful. He has done his own reading and thinking. They are not just what could be passed off as inspirational fast-food. Years of study and reflection go into his essays.

Second, he wrote on the simplest experiences of life in such a way as to emboss their beauty upon the flatness of daily experiences. He helps me to feel life’s great treasures as I touch the ordinary. Whether it was saying goodbye to a friend or shutting a gate on a country road, Boreham mined the treasures of simplicity. He blessed the routine with eternal value and the mind of the reader soars to heights of splendor even in the common.

But there is a third very important aspect of his writing that would perhaps appeal to a minority of people. Boreham used language as a work of art. He did not believe in reducing everything to the trivial by denying himself the wealth to be found in words.

Somewhere, somehow, we have died as a culture because long ago we lost the place of verbal expression, and we have mistakenly made all writing to meet the test of journalistic barrenness. We have robbed ourselves of great reading and reduced our intake to the minimal and the pictorial and now we mourn our desensitized hearts.

There is plenty of good news around us if only we would be still and take the time to nourish the imagination with the possibility of truth and goodness. This discipline can only come by personal choice. We cannot ask the government or other authorities to do it for us. In this sense, Mark Barton and the writer of the letter to the editor had one thing in common, which we, too, share. We all make trades. We trade our lives every day. Mr. Barton’s trade was a slow death that led to hellish proportions. I am afraid that we have all, in our culture, made such trades. The keepers of our public trust have traded decency for wealth. For many of us, the trade is one of running ragged with the constant input of information, forfeiting that which energizes the conscience. The only way I know to keep that sensitivity alive is to, in my private life, so feed my soul with good news that my heart cracks open, keeping it from becoming impervious to bad news.

For more on Boreham, visit this site.

Minnesota: Going Red?

Brendan Miniter writes in the Wall Street Journal:

. . . Minnesota, traditionally a progressive state that gave us such liberal icons as Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Sen. Paul Wellstone, may now be turning Republican. It was the only state Ronald Reagan lost in 1984, but Democrats can no longer count on carrying the state. John Kerry had 60% of the vote in the Twin Cities last year, but the suburbs went to President Bush by a similar margin. "Two decades ago, these results might not have been so disturbing. But now the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul are three times as populous as the Twin Cities themselves," he writes. The problem is Democrats have for too long denigrated suburban dwellers and even fought new suburbs from going up with "smart growth" restrictions, so suburbanites return the favor by voting Republican.

The quote is in a helpful article on The McCain Myth, where Miniter argues that it is a mistake to think that McCain's "maverick moderatism" is going to propel him to the White House in 2008. Key quote:

what Mr. McCain and the other Republican Senate "moderates" in last week's compromise would have the party do is give up on the very principles that is winning elections. All in the name of appealing to the "middle" of the electorate that is already voting for the party. . . .

As for Mr. McCain, this all leaves him in the unenviable position of offering a political philosophy--no more tax cuts, moderate reforms to entitlement programs and, among other things, moderate judges--that is actually costing Democrats votes. Paradoxically it's a political philosophy that helps him wield tremendous power in the Senate, where there are plenty of mushy moderates. But the idea that it's a political philosophy that will propel Republicans into the White House is a myth that this President Bush has long since dispelled.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Recommended Things to Do in the Twin Cities

For those readers in the Twin Cities: if you're looking for some educational entertainment, you might want to head over to Historic Fort Snelling (a restored military post from the 1820s) or Historic Murphy's Landing (a living history musuem which depicts Minnesota life during the 1840s--1890s). Our family spent Memorial Day afternoon at Murphy's Landing and had a wonderful time!

Tracing the Argument

Some people familiar with John Piper's ministry have heard him mention, on and off throughout the years, something called "arcing." Piper says that he used to see Scripture passages like a string of pearls--beautiful pieces, all one following the other. It was revolutionary for him to learn in seminary that Scripture contains not a string of pearls, but chains of arguments. The biblical authors put together detailed arguments to make their case and to persuade their readers. "Arcing" is a visual method for discovering and following the argument of the text. Piper has written: "Its principles undergird my whole approach to Biblical interpretation."

If you want to learn this method of study, I'd encourage you to check out Jim Hamilton's online chapter, The Nature of the Bible and How to Study It. This will give you an excellent overview of "arcing," or tracing the argument.

Then to go deeper, you may want to consider getting John Piper's booklet, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts, or Tom Schreiner's textbook, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


One of my desires for evangelicalism is to see an increased connected between seminary professors and the proverbial "man in the pew." So I'm always happy to get word of God-centered theologians who start blogging. Jim Hamilton of Southwestern Seminary has now entered the blogosophere. You can check out his blog For His Renown, which is just getting started. See especially his excellent post on revival.

Friday, May 27, 2005

This Is No Fairy Tale

My friend Dale Tolmasoff has a delightful children's book coming out this summer with Crossway, entitled This Is No Fairy Tale. You can browse the book at Crossway's site and read John Piper's foreword for it.

Dale, by the way, is a former Jehovah's Witness, whose life has been wonderfully transformed by the grace and truth of Christ. Crossway has also published Dale's gospel tract for JW's: Who's Knocking at Your Door? which you may want to consider getting in order to prepare for, well, the next time they are knocking at your door!

Schaeffer, Guinness, Wells, Myers--and Van Til

Another excerpt from Frame's lectures, in which he draws upon his hero--Cornelius Van Til. Before reproducing the quote, I should mention that it is quite sad that Van Til's name causes such a negative reaction among so many in the apologetic-philosophical community. There are many reasons for this (CVT's writings aren't easy to follow, they contain obscure references, he is unapologetically Calvinistic, he often saw the worst in his theological opponents, a segment of his followers tend to think CTV had the final word of apologetics, etc.) But if given a sympathetic hearing, what he saw and what he has to say is often biblically profound. For example, his understanding of the irrationalist-rationalist dialectic running throughout the history of human thought is enormously helpful. Anyway, here's Frame:

Van Til knew a great deal about the history of human thought, but he made very little of historical turning points. This is one very noticeable difference between him and the thinkers we have so far considered. Schaeffer, Guinness, Wells, Myers, and the chroniclers of postmodernism, all make a case against present-day culture, based on historical developments. For Schaeffer, the turning point was the “line of despair;” for Guinness, the counter-culture of the 1960s; with Wells, modernism; for Myers, the industrial revolution; for many others, postmodernism. So for these thinkers it is some relatively recent historical development that is responsible for most of the ills of present-day culture.

Van Til knew only one turning point: the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. History since that time, in his view, has been replay after replay. Eve was rationalist and irrationalist, modernist and postmodernist, oppressive establishment and counter-cultural rebel, an idolater of value and a destroyer of it, all at the same time. Picture the scene. Eve knows what God has said, but she has also heard a Word from Satan that claims God is a liar. How shall she make up her mind? It should have been obvious, of course. God is the creator; he has perfect knowledge and understanding; he has the right to speak with absolute authority. Eve should have trusted God, too, because he loved her.

But something had happened in her consciousness. Somehow, she no longer accepted God’s Word as the final Word. As Van Til explains, Eve was shut up to two remaining alternatives: either there is no final authority, or she was the final authority. As a Rationalist, she believed that she had the authority to decide what was true or false, right or wrong. But if she were the final authority, then there was no God, nobody who could speak a Word more authoritative than hers. And if there was no God, there was no meaning, no rationality, no structure, no ground any other Word, including Eve’s, to be authoritative. So Eve was both a rationalist and an irrationalist. She thought she was the supreme authority, but she also believed there was no supreme authority. These two beliefs were inconsistent, of course. But both are necessary to the unbelieving mindset.

So Van Til analyzed the history of philosophy to show that all non-Christian thinkers, from ancient Greece to the present, were both rationalists and irrationalists at the same time. Van Til did not agree with Schaeffer that the ancient Greeks had an adequate view of truth. The Greeks believed with Eve that truth could be known through the autonomous human intellect; and that was no better than subjectivism or irrationalism. Nor did he take the position of Wells, and others that the ills of culture come from modernism, or the industrial revolution, or the sixties’ counter-culture, or postmodernism. Eve was both a traditionalist and a modernist, a modernist and a postmodernist. History is not a movement from rationalism to irrationalism, but a dialogue, a dance, among these. When rationalism gets out of hand, irrationalism jumps in, and vice versa.

So the problem is not history; the problem is sin. Culture is bad today, but Sodom and Gomorrah were probably not any better, nor were Tyre, Sidon, Ninevah, Babylon, Rome, Capernaum, Chorazin, or Bethsaida.

Popular culture is bad, but high culture is too. Beethoven was a devotee of the secularism of the French Revolution, Wagner of German mythology, and their music makes a powerful case for these false world-views. The problems of high culture go back a long way. It is not that high culture has been infected by popular culture; if anything, the reverse is true. And folk culture has always had alongside its humble virtues a lot of bawdy tales, class warfare, ignorant populism, and disrespect for the holy.

It is always wrong to try to single out one element of culture as pure, even relatively pure, and blame all society’s ills on some other element. That is almost always self-serving: we like what we like, and we want to blame the evils of life on the culture we dislike. But perhaps we need to have a more biblical view of sin. Sin is not limited to some segment of society or some segment of culture. It pervades everything. And whatever good there is comes from God’s common and special grace.

Premodernism, Modernism, and Postmodernism

The historical-idealogical labels "premodernism," "modernism," and "postmodernism" are oftened used today to divide three ages or stages of intellectual history. In Frame's lectures (cited in the previous post), he reproduces an outline from Richard Pratt that offers some helpful ways to think about these three:

I. Standard of Truth

A. Premodern: Truth is discerned primarily through religious institutions and mythology under the guidance of religious leaders.
B. Modern: Truth is discerned primarily through rational and scientific investigation under the guidance of rationalistic philosophers and scientists.
C. Postmodern: Truth is discerned both through mythology and rational-scientific means.

II. Ultimate Reality

A. Premodern: Ultimate reality is spiritual and deeply influences events in the ephemeral physical world.
B. Modern: Ultimate reality is the physical world. If a spiritual world exists at all, it is ephemeral and uninvolved in the events of the physical would.
C. Postmodern: Ultimate reality is both physical and spiritual (personal and impersonal); these dimensions of reality interact in countless ways.

III. Seeker of Truth

A. Premodern: Individuality is discouraged and conformity to community traditions is highly prized.
B. Modern: Individuality of the independent objective scholar (transcendent subject) is prized over conformity to received traditions.
C. Postmodern: Individuality is disdained as self-deceptive, but individuals are encouraged to defy oppressive traditions.

IV. Modes of Communication

A. Premodern: Heavy reliance on oral, ritualized and iconographic communication due to widespread illiteracy and primitive publishing techniques.
B. Modern: Heavy reliance on written communication, especially paper, due to rising literacy and publishing technologies (printing press).
C. Postmodern: Written communication is lowered to the level of other formats, especially the iconographic, due to widespread electronic technologies.

V. Historical Progress

A. Premodern: Widespread mythic meta-narratives depict history in never-ending cycles.
B. Modern: Widespread rational and scientific meta-narrative depict history as progressing toward utopia.
C. Postmodern: Fragmented, heteromorphic multi-narratives depict history as cycles and counter-cycles of cacaphony and harmony.” [Meta-narratives suspected as attempts to oppress victim groups.]

Christianity and Culture

A couple of years ago John Frame put together some thoughtful lectures on "Christianity and Culture." The five lectures are titled as follows:

  1. What Is Culture?
  2. Christ and Culture
  3. Christ and Our Culture
  4. Christians in Our Culture
  5. Culture in the Church

I find virtually everything Professor Frame writes to be clear and refreshingly scriptural. You can read the lectures either in PDF or Word format. Besides a helpful biblical-theological overview of culture, it also contains some helpful thoughts on watching films and worship music. In addition, it contains some correctives to the Schaeffer-Guinness-Myers-Postman critiques of contemporary culture.

Update on Blog Review Opportunity

Thanks to all who have responded about the blog review opportunity for Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. If you haven't heard back from me, it's because your email bounced. The PDF file is 11MB. If your email can't receive a file of that size, perhaps you can send me another email address to send it to.



Bible Memory Plan Update

The ESV Blog now has the RSS feed of the memory plan available. "The feed updates itself every day to help jog your memory throughout the week, and you get a new verse to memorize every Sunday. New Testament passages include mp3s so you can both hear and read the passages."

You can also download a pdf of the plan.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Do You Have Free Will?

Here is a four-page interview with Bruce Ware on the topic of free will, published in the Australian Presbyterian magazine. (The file is a PDF; the interview is on pages 4-8.)

Abortions Rising Under Bush?

On Meet the Press last week, Howard Dean asked: "You know that abortions have gone up 25 percent since George Bush was President?"

In a new release, the non-partisan organization FactCheck.org says not only that "Dean was wrong," but that he was wrong "by a wide margin."

Readers of this blog may recall that I interacted with Glenn Stassen, the main perpetuator of this information, in various posts. Michelle Malkin has also dealt with the myth a number of times (e.g., here).

[HT: Eric Bateman]

The Revolution Will Be Blogged

In his Crosswalk.com article today on blogging, Al Mohler concludes:

In a strange twist of irony, the culture of Western civilization may survive through the efforts of a core of dedicated bloggers who are unwilling to see it die. The media elite will simply have to watch from a distance, scratching their heads as they watch their audience disappear and their influence dissipate. The long-term impact of the blogging revolution is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, the toppling of the mainstream media's monopoly is a cultural achievement in itself. May the revolution continue.

New Scripture Memory System

In my view, the most accurate and readable translation available today is the English Standard Version (ESV), published by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. In recent months they have been producing relatively inexpensive Bibles that are geared toward those who are new to the Bible. Last week they published a paperback Truth edition, explaining what truth is and offering some supplemental material to help the reader.

I had the privilege of working with Crossway on this material, providing some early drafts for them. Stephen Smith of the ESV Blog asked if I would post about the Scripture memory program (entitled “Treasuring God’s Truth in Your Heart”) I developed for use in this edition.

There’s nothing fancy about it. It is simply 52 Bible passages, one for each week of the year. Each passage has a corresponding “truth,” providing a broad overview of some key topics of theology. For example, for each of the first 18 weeks you memorize an attribute of God. In week 19, you memorize a verse on the Trinity. Weeks 20-22 cover Christ’s threefold office. Weeks 23-28 deal with six attributes of Scripture. Weeks 29-41 cover salvation, weeks 42-45 deal with end times and eternity, and weeks 46-49 deal with the church. Week 50 is on the New Covenant, week 51 is on the Great Commandments, and week 52 is on the Great Commission.

If one were to commit to this modest program—just one passage a week—you would not only have 52 Bible passages memorized, but you would also have a wonderful overview of the Christian faith.

If you think you lack the motivation or the time or the ability to do this, consider this challenge from John Piper:

You may doubt that you can do this, especially if you are older. But ask yourself this question, If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward." The real value of the word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The question is, Do you believe this? Believing this will be the crucial motivation you need.

The ESV Blog is setting up an RSS feed if you want to follow this program online. It will be live tomorrow morning.

Narcissism in Washington

John McCain is the media's favorite Republican. You will search in vain for a criticism of him by the mainstream media. So I was glad to read Peggy Noonan's article this morning (Mr. Narcissus Goes to Washington), which is not about McCain alone, but about those Republicans and Democrats who brokered the filibuster deal. Now both sides of the aisle have and will debate whether that deal was a good thing or a bad thing. But hopefully we can all agree that the hubris and the chest-thumping and the self-righteousness of these men was undignified, unbecoming, and disconcerting.

May the effect of reading it not be that we would gloat over their weakness and folly, but that we would commit in our own lives to rooting out pride and cultivating humility--which only comes by looking to Him who humbled himself on the cross for our salvation.

"This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review Blogging Opportunity

If any blogger out there is interested in reviewing an advance copy of Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (with contributions by Al Mohler, Ben Patterson, David Powlison, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, Carolyn Mahaney, and others), you can do the following:

  1. Send me an email at BetweenTwoWorlds [at] gmail.com.
  2. Let me know your blog address.
  3. Agree to do a review of the book on your blog.

I'll then send you a PDF of the entire book. Once you do your review, just send me the link, along with your snail-mail address, and we'll send you a complimentary printed copy of the book. Thanks!

SCOTUS Prediction

Once in a blue moon I make predictions on this site. Most of them never come true. But here goes: When a Supreme Court spot opens up later this year, President Bush will nominate Janice Rogers Brown. Here are a few reasons: (1) she is highly qualified; (2) she is a woman; (3) she is African American; and (4) she won't be filibustered.

President Bush has demonstrated numerous times that he values a diversity of highly qualified people to make up his cabinet and his appointees. Why do I think that she won't be filibustered? Because the Senate compromise deal reached the other day agreed not to filibuster Brown and reserved the right to filibuster only those "extreme" candidates in "extraordinary circumstances." Brown, then, on their understanding, is not extreme and is no longer worth filibustering. So if logic and consistency mean anything, she is filibuster-proof.

I think it would be a very shrewd political move. John Podhoretz, by the way, thinks that Bush will nominate Miguel Estrada to become the first hispanic Supreme Court justice. This very well could happen. The question is whether Estrada, who had to withdraw his name for an earlier nomination, will accept. I doubt he will, and hence I think Brown may bet the nod.

BTW, the name that appears most often at the top of shortlists for SCOTUS is Judge Michael McConnell. If more than one vacancy opens up, as seems likely, I would expect to see a McConnell nomination and confirmation.

New John Owen Articles

We continue to add articles to the JohnOwen.org website. For example, here are some recent additions:

All three, in my opinion, are excellent and edifying.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Trotting Out the Toddler

Have you ever been in a conversation about abortion with someone who argued that the issue of abortion was terribly complex? Or do you often find yourself on playing defense, instead of going on offense? If so, you may want to read Scott Klusendorf's short but superb article on a pro-life tactic called Trotting Out the Toddler. One challenge to consider would be reading this article and then praying about how you might weave this into a conversation with someone who does not believe in the sanctify of life in the womb.

Bible Illiteracy and the Next Great Awakening

David Gelernter—a senior fellow in Jewish Thought at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem, and a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard—recently wrote a fascinating column entitled Bible Illiteracy. This quote in particular stood out to me:

It’s impossible to find one global solution to the problem of Bible teaching in America. But it’s easy to find one global hope. America is fertile ground for Great Awakenings—mass movements in which large chunks of the population return to their religious roots. We haven’t had one for awhile; we are overdue. Great Awakenings are big, dramatic events that take off like rockets and burn out like rockets, after brief but spectacular careers. Even so, many people find in the aftermath that their life-trajectories have been changed forever.

The next Great Awakening will presumably be centered in the Protestant community—but will deal in friendship with America’s other religious communities. To have a Great Awakening, you need a great talker. (To change people’s ideas about religion and the Bible and God, you have to look them in the eye and speak to them from the heart.)

My guess is that our next Great Awakening will begin among college students. College students today are (spiritually speaking) the driest timber I have ever come across. Mostly they know little or nothing about religion; little or nothing about Americanism. Mostly no one ever speaks to them about truth and beauty, or nobility or honor or greatness. They are empty—spiritually bone dry—because no one has ever bothered to give them anything spiritual that is worth having. Platitudes about diversity and tolerance and multiculturalism are thin gruel for intellectually growing young people.

Let the right person speak to them, and they will turn back to the Bible with an excitement and exhilaration that will shake the country. In reading the Bible they will feel as if they are going home—which is just what they will be doing. Nothing would do America more good than a biblical homecoming.

Mr. Gelernter and I would obviously have our differences. I don’t desire a great awakening in general—my prayer is for a great awakening to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And Mr. Gelernter’s prose could suggest a formula: just get the right person to talk about the Bible and let the biblical homecoming begin! These caveats aside, isn’t this amazing?

In a day when many of our cultural consultants insist that we can only reach this generation by revising our concept of truth, I think that Mr. Gelernter’s challenge is more accurate. It’s simply that no one has taken the time to build a relationship with them and imparted to them a worldview of truth and beauty and and love. “They are empty—spiritually bone dry—because no one has ever bothered to give them anything spiritual that is worth having.” Wise words to ponder.

(HT: C.J. Mahaney)

The Administration Strongly Opposes...

The White House just released a strong letter of opposition regarding H.R. 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005. I appreciate the moral clarity here:

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 810, which would require Federal taxpayer dollars to be used to encourage the ongoing destruction of nascent human life. The bill would compel all American taxpayers to pay for research that relies on the intentional destruction of human embryos for the derivation of stem cells, overturning the President’s policy that supports research without promoting such ongoing destruction. If H.R. 810 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill.

I was also glad to see this paragraph:

H.R. 810 advances the proposition that the Nation must choose between science and ethics. The Administration, however, believes it is possible to advance scientific research without violating ethical principles: both by enacting the appropriate policy safeguards and by pursuing the appropriate scientific techniques. H.R. 810 is seriously flawed legislation that would undo those safeguards and provide a disincentive to pursuing those techniques.

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Have you ever heard of Thomas Chalmers' famous sermon, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection? If not, I'd encourage you to give it a read.

Sinclair Ferguson
applies Chalmers' biblical perspective to our own struggles today with expelling worldliness. He writes:

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

Read the whole thing to see how Chalmers and Ferguson understand the true key for expelling even Christian worldliness from our hearts and minds.

"The Best Single Resource on Calvinism I Know"

Whether you're a Calvinist or an Arminian (or even if you are an Armenian!), you might be interested in this resource recommended by Phil Johnson. It's a hardback syllabus entitled The History and Theology of Calvinism." Johnson writes:

"It is the best single resource on Calvinism I know. It’s filled with copious quotations and wonderful insight. He covers in it, in a kind of extensive outline format every major doctrine related to Calvinism. And in the process he gives a thorough overview of Calvinist history. I love historical theology and in fact this syllabus was practically my first introduction to the subject more than a decade ago. And it remains a favorite resource of mine."

Click here for the table of contents and ordering information.

Dr. Daniel also has some online MP3 lectures on the history and theology of Calvinism available for purchase.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Carson on the New Perspective(s) on Paul

A.B. Caneday has posted Don Carson's recent lectures on the New Perspective over at his blog.

A Jared Sighting in Minneapolis?

I just picked up my wife and daughter who were eating at Subway. While waiting for them to get their stuff, a guy did a double-take. He said something I didn't hear, then said, "Don't tell me that's the first time you've heard that." Apparently he said that I looked like Jared, the Subway spokesman guy. (It turns out someone else told me that once.) Then everyone in store turned to look at me. Mouths dropped. People were staring. It was a bit awkward as I made a lame joke about getting a free sub.

Well, now that Subway is discontinuing their stamps program, perhaps I should try it!

An Explanation of the New Perspective on Paul

Douglas Wilson is recommending Bryan Chapell's new article, An Explanation of the New Perspective on Paul.

Wilson comments: "He distinguishes things that need to be distinguished, he knows what central issues of the faith need to be defended and preserved, he criticizes without hysterics, and his admonitions to all parties are worth listening to prayerfully, even if you initially think you might differ. This is an example of the kind of interaction that actually might get us somewhere."

Cinderalla Man

John Podhoretz recently wrote that "The upcoming [movie] Cinderalla Man, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ron Howard, is a thrilling piece of work. I left the screening room this afternoon exhilarated, moved, excited, stirred and overwhelmed, convinced that Cinderella Man is one of the best movies ever made...." I'm going to an advance screening next week, and I'll let you know if I agree.

You can watch the trailer here.

Childish Faculty and Childish Preschoolers

No, Al Mohler doesn't draw a connection between the two, but he does blog today on the childish faculty of Calvin College and their inappropriate politicization of an academic ceremony, as well as whether or not children of preschool age should be in preschool.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Two Most Important 20th Century Books on Race in America

Probably the two most significant books written during the twentieth century on race in America were An American Dilemma (1944) by Gunnar Myrdal and America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible (1997) by Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom. In fact, Linda Chavez, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, writes that “American in Black and White is the most important book on race to appear since Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma. Stephen Thernstrom--called by some America's greatest living historian of the antebellum south--is the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard University, and Abigail Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. In the closing chapter of their 700-page tome they write:

Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, Andrew Hacker called his best-selling book. Our book is in many ways an answer to Hacker. One nation (we argue), no longer separate, much less unequal than it once was, and by many measures, less hostile. Moreover, the serious inequality that remains is less a function of white racism than of the racial gap in levels of educational attainment, the structure of the black family, and the rise in black crime.

We quarrel with the left—its going-nowhere picture of black America and white racial attitudes. But we also quarrel with the right—its see-no-evil view. It seems extraordinary hard for liberals to say we have come a long way; the Jim Crow South is not the South of 1997. But it seems very hard for conservatives to say, yes, there was a terrible history of racism in this country, and too much remains.

Conservatives seem to think they concede too much if they acknowledge the ugliness of our racial history and the persistence of racism (greatly diminished but not gone)—that if they do so, they will be committed to the currently pervasive system of racial preferences and indeed to reparations. And liberals, from their different perspective, also fear concession. To admit dramatic change, they seem to believe, is to invite white indifference. As if everything blacks now have rests on the fragile foundation of white guilt. (pp. 534-535)

For those interested in studying this difficult issue, the careful, nuanced work of the Thernstroms should be required reading for both liberals and conservatives.

But the problem still remains that the definitive carefully-nuanced, gospel-centered, historically-informed, exegetically-rigorous, culturally-discerning volume by a confessional evangelical remains to be written. Who will the Lord raise up for such a time as this?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

In his very thoughtful analysis and critique of popular culture—All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes—Ken Myers writes:

Many Christians are interested in the answer to the question, “How can I enjoy popular culture in a way that is consistent with a Christian worldview?” What if someone were to ask, “How can I enjoy sexuality in a way that is consistent with a Christian worldview?” It would not be responsible to answer simply by offering a catalogue of sexual behavior and saying, “These things you can do, and these are things you can’t.” Rather, we should start by understanding sexuality in the context in which God created it, by examining its significance in light of other activities and responsibilities and relationships. A good answer would begin with a question, “What is the nature of human sexuality?

Of course, such an answer may not satisfy the impatient adolescent who simply wants to know “how far” he can go without sinning. But the cultivation of a Christian worldview is not a matter of defining the “bottom line.” It involves reflecting on the nature of things, on the place they have in the larger scheme of creation and redemption, in human nature and in history. (p. 180)

That is one of the goals for our forthcoming book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ—helping to establish some key building blocks in the construction of a Christ-centered worldview on sexuality.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Powlison on Counseling

In response to the question What are the differences between biblical counseling and various other approaches to counseling that are popular in the church? David Powlison suggests some thoughts on the distinctions, and then suggest some questions to ask in order to build some basic skills in discernment. “The following four questions enable you to fairly and accurately test any of the mixed multitude of counseling approaches. If you know how to engage any model discerningly, you will be able to size up the strengths and weaknesses of those particular approaches to counseling that become popular in your church circles.”

The questions are:

1. How is God portrayed?

2. How is human nature interpreted?

3. How are circumstances weighed?

4. How are the goals and activities of counseling conceived?

“Four simple questions to build discernment… so much discernment needed! But I think you will find that as you learn to think well within these truths, fine things will happen. You will grow wiser as a biblical counselor worthy of the name: a wise shepherd of sheep and curer of souls. You will also find that you grow more insightful into whatever worldly wisdoms cry out for your ear, your vote, your loyalty, your ministry, your people.”

For further explanation and elaboration, see the whole answer.

Another Phil Johnson Blog

Not only does Phil Johnson (of Grace to You and the Spurgeon websites) have a forthcoming blog, but it turns out that Phillip Johnson (of Darwin on Trial fame) has a blog as well. [Line deleted]

(HT: Evangelical Outpost, who posts a summary on Prof. Johnson for his "Know Your Evangelicals" series.)

CT Books of the Year

Christianity Today has posted their Books of the Year for 2005.

Amazon.com's Koran Descretation Problem

Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes draws our attention to "Amazon.com's Koran Desecration Problem," which has obviously received far less attention that the Newsweek Koran-flushing story. Check out the full story. Although it's possible that the incident really happened as reported, the demands being made upon Amazon are clearly unreasonable.

But as it so happens, it's hard for me not to doubt the veracity of the story in the first place. It's sad to say, but "hate hoaxes" are becoming more prevalent. Just recently at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL, a minority student was caught anonymously sending racist hate (e)mail to fellow minority students in order to perpetuate the idea that Trinity was racist and dangerous. And two years ago a white seminary student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN was arrested for spray-painting "White Power!" and a swastika onto his pick-up truck and then claiming that racists had done it. The more that the proverbial boy cries wolf, the less these sort of complaints will be taken seriously.

Classic Liberalism vs. Illiberal Liberalism

Don't miss Al Mohler's latest essay, summarizing Stanley Kurtz's new essay, "Culture and Values in the 1960's," in Never a Matter of Indifference: Sustaining Virtue in a Free Republic. Kurtz argues that "the sixties ethos, and the transformation of liberalism it has produced, is best understood as a secular religion, and in many respects an illiberal religion." Kurtz contrasts this with classical liberalism, which celebrates liberty combined with moral character within a moral structure.

"The Caricature and Reality of George Bush"

There must be something in the air that makes commentators want to write and print speeches that they imagine President Bush giving! (See the previous post.) Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Victor Davis Hanson, one of this country’s finest historians, encourages us to step back and ponder the incredible turn of events that have been experienced under President Bush’s watch and due to his vision of freedom. To illustrate, Hanson asks us to imagine the President delivering this address on the day after the 9/11 attacks. If he had proposed or predicted it then, I doubt that anyone in their right mind would have believed this possible:

"Ours is not a war on Muslims or the Arab world. Rather, we are in a struggle against a new fascism that resorts to terror. Osama bin Laden must distort Islam and deflect blame onto the United States for the self-inflicted miseries of the Middle East, created by its own illiberal dictatorships.

"Therefore, American strategy is three-pronged:

"We will hunt down terrorist cells in the United States that due to our laxity have already infiltrated the West.

"America will remove rogue regimes abroad that have funded and supported these killers.

"In their places, the United States will support consensual governments to ensure a third choice other than just Islamic theocracy or brutal dictatorship.

"First, we must go on the offensive. In less than a month, our forces will go to faraway Afghanistan and remove the Taliban within six weeks upon arrival. From that victory, democracy will follow for all Afghans, regardless of tribe or gender.

"Some regimes openly sanction terrorists. Others have entered into secretive alliances with them. Saddam Hussein has violated all his past international agreements and murdered thousands of his own and others across his borders. The Senate no doubt will sanction his removal because he is an enemy of the United States, subsidizing anti-democratic terrorists from the West Bank to Kurdistan.

"In the space of three week's time, we can liberate Iraq from Saddam's Baathist nightmare and stay on to help the long-suffering Iraqi people secure their freedom under a new democracy.

"Pakistan has been hostile, but its cooperation is vital to dismantle Al Qaeda. We must win President Musharraf over to the side of civilization and prod him to reform. Such cooperation is fraught with danger. It demands the exposure of the nuclear proliferator Dr. A.Q. Khan and the cessation of his efforts to spread nuclear weapons worldwide. If we are successful, in the next four years most of the leadership of Al Qaeda will be scattered into hiding, apprehended or killed.

"Democracy is a human aspiration and thus contagious. After our successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, America may well see democratic awakenings in Lebanon, Egypt and the Gulf states.

"Such reform could serve as an inspiration to peoples even as far distant as the former Soviet republics and Ethiopia. Syria must and will leave Lebanon to the Lebanese. It is also past time for Col. Gadhafi in Libya to come clean about his dangerous arsenal. Europeans should join us in stopping the nuclear plans of theocratic Iran.

"Yasser Arafat corrupted elections in Palestine. He embezzled billions from his own citizens, subverting all his commitments to peace. Arafat must be shunned and his subsidies cut off. Only that way can fair elections return to the West Bank. The American government certainly will no longer see him as a representative of the Palestinian people.

"Despite our historic relationship with Saudi Arabia, American troops will leave the kingdom. Saddam soon will no longer pose a threat, and we must distance ourselves from a Saudi monarchy whose rogue princes have funded terrorists.

"None of this will be easy, given our past appeasement of terrorists, the world's dependence on Middle Eastern oil and the global distrust of American force.

"Congress will debate this agenda. We must await its vote of approval before moving against both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. This administration shall stand for election in three years--and so the wisdom or folly of these risky policies will be determined by the American voter.

"The Taliban ruler Mullah Omar and Saddam Hussein are formidable. Their removal halfway around the world may cost hundreds of American lives. Yet if we act forcefully now, we can fight the suicide bombers and autocrats on their own turf. That way, in the days ahead we will lose far fewer Americans in this war abroad than we have yesterday in peace at home. Only this difficult road ensures that in four years we will not witness a repeat of yesterday's mass murder on American soil."

My view is that President Bush will go down in the history books (along with Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan) as one of the most consequential presidents in American history, by which I mean, that tremendously significant events happened due to his leadership. Of course, we will continue to debate whether his actions have been just or unjust, wise or unwise. But it seems hard to dispute that his presidency is one that is fundamentally changing the international landscape.

What President Bush Should Have Said Instead

Thomas Friedman of the NYT says that instead of sending Scott McClellan “out to flog Newsweek,” President Bush instead should have used the bully pulpit to speak straight truth to Muslims. It seems like sound advice to me, though I don’t think it was wrong to chastise journalistic malpractice. Here is what Friedman thinks Bush should have said instead:

"Let me say first to all Muslims that desecrating anyone's holy book is utterly wrong. These allegations will be investigated, and any such behavior will be punished. That is how we Americans intend to look in the mirror. But we think the Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving toward an even worse crime than the desecration of God's words, and that is the desecration of God's creations. In reaction to an unsubstantiated Newsweek story, Muslims killed 16 other Muslims in Afghanistan in rioting, and no one has raised a peep—as if it were a totally logical reaction. That is wrong.

"In Iraq, where Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Muslims are struggling to build a pluralistic new order, other Muslims, claiming to act in the name of Allah, are indiscriminately butchering people, without a word of condemnation coming from Muslim spiritual or political leaders. I don't understand a concept of the sacred that says a book is more sacred than a human life. A holy book, whether the Bible or the Koran, is only holy to the extent that it shapes human life and behavior.

"Look, Newsweek may have violated journalistic rules, but what jihadist terrorists are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan—blowing up innocent Muslims struggling to build an alternative society to dictatorship—surely destroys the Koran. They are the real enemies of Islam because they are depriving Muslims of a better future. From what I know of Islam, it teaches that you show reverence to God by showing reverence for his creations, not just his words. Why don't your spiritual leaders say that? I am asking, because I want to know."

That would certainly be an interesting statement. As much as I appreciate and admire the President on many levels, this is the sort of thing he rarely is willing to do. I wish he’d ask such questions.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ask the Translators

Adrian Warnock has been granted an exclusive interview with the ESV Translation Oversight Committee to ask them whatever he wants about the ESV translation. If you want to suggest a question, just head over to Adrian's blog. I commend Crossway for starting a blog and for taking this unique step of openness and communication with their readership.

The Politics of the Kingdom

Russ Moore--blogging at the new Mere Comments blog [HT: Steve McCoy] writes that

"Ken Myers of 'Mars Hill Audio' is re-releasing [the late Edmund] Clowney's classic article, 'The Politics of the Kingdom' for purchase or free download. In this article, Clowney lays out a brilliant argument for a tempered political engagement based on a Calvinist understanding of the inaugurated Kingdom of God. It is well worth the read."

I agree with Moore's assessment here. Moore, BTW, published a revised verison of his disseration with Crossway Books. It's entitled The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective, on the issue of evangelical engagement with social and political issues. Here's a blurb for it:

“For far too long, evangelicals have waited for a serious study of the Kingdom of God and its political application. That book has now arrived, and The Kingdom of Christ will redefine the conversation about evangelicalism and politics. Russell Moore combines stellar historical and theological research with a keen understanding of cultural and political realities. This is a landmark book by one of evangelicalism’s finest minds.”
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Christians, Character, and the Medium of Pop Culture

Ken Myers, who comes from the Marshall McLuhan school of The Medium Is the Message, makes a helpful clarification about why Christians should be cautious of pop culture. It's not for the main reasons that we hear:

Christians [commonly] worry that the content of popular culture will encourage certain behavior (e.g., disrespect to parents, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, proclivity to violence, etc.). While these are obviously legitimate concerns, what should attract more attention is the effect of consistent exposure to popular culture, whether or not the content is objectionable, on the development of internal dispositions. The habits of mind, heart, and soul—in short the qualities of character—that are encouraged or discouraged by the aesthetic dynamics of our cultural activities are at least as important to Christian reflection on culture as are social considerations. After all, we believe that a person does what a person is, not the other way around—that who we are inside is ultimately more significant than who we are outside.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture, p. 76.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson (of Grace to You and the Spurgeon Archive) is starting a new blog. The template is up already, and apparently the content will begin starting June 1. I find whatever Phil writes to be informative, thoughtful, and refreshing--so I look forward to his entrance into the blogosphere. I'm sure his blog will be one to bookmark.

(HT: Challies)

I forgot to include a link to the blog--sorry. Here it is: phillipjohnson.blogspot.com.

The DaVinci Code

You can now watch the trailer for the soon-to-be-released Ron Howard film, The DaVinci Code.

For a brief critique of the original novel, you can check out Craig Blomberg's review. You can also listen online to a couple of free lectures by Blomberg: 1. The DaVinci Code: Was There a Plan to Suppress “Secret” Gospels? and 2. The DaVinci Code: Was There a Conspiracy to Concoct a Divine Jesus?

Is It Okay to Question God?

John Piper answers in his brief meditation on How to Query God.

The Demise of Church Discipline

Al Mohler has just completed a four-part series on The Demise of Church Discipline (Part 1, 2, 3, and 4).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

20/20 Special Report on the Resurrection

William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, and Paul Maier will be among those interviewed for an ABC News’ 20/20 Special Report on the resurrection of Jesus, to air this Friday. (HT: STR)

"Modernism to Eleven"

Joe Carter is asking: "Is Postmodernism a Myth?" What do you think?

Harvard to Spend $50 Million to Increase Diversity

The New York Times reports:

Lawrence H. Summers, the embattled president of Harvard University, announced yesterday that the university would spend at least $50 million over the next decade to recruit, support and promote women and members of underrepresented minority groups on its faculty.

Dr. Summers said the money would be spent on a range of initiatives, including the creation of a new senior vice provost post to focus on diversity issues, improved recruitment, subsidies for salaries, mentoring of junior faculty members and extending the clock on tenure for professors who go on maternity or parental leave. . . .

"In spite of more than three decades of concern, Harvard has made only limited progress in its efforts to create a genuinely diverse faculty," the committee members said.

"Women and minorities remain significantly underrepresented in relation not just to their proportions in the broader population," the committees said, "but in comparison to their presence in the student body of Harvard's ten schools."

Dr. Summers said in a telephone news conference yesterday that Harvard's hiring record last year had been unacceptable. "We have to do better," he said.

He called the $50 million an "initial commitment" and said he expected that the university would ultimately devote more resources to attract and retain a more diverse faculty.

"Certainly our aspiration is that Harvard be the leader in this sphere and does what is necessary to be the leader," Dr. Summers said.

Faculty members interviewed yesterday were enthusiastic about the initiatives. But some remained skeptical of Dr. Summers's commitment to diversity. Several professors also said $50 million was not a particularly large sum for an institution as wealthy as Harvard. In recent years, its operating budget has been about $2.5 billion.

Newsweek's Not So Honest Mistake

The editors at the Wall Street Journal suggest this morning that “Newsweek’s Explosive Allegation Was No ‘Honest Mistake.’”

They point to “a kind of permanent adversary media culture that goes beyond reporting the war news--good or bad as it should--and tends to suspect the worst about the military and American purposes.”

This media mindset, they argue, goes back to Vietnam, where a number of reporters made their careers “by turning into the war's fiercest critics and creating a culture of suspicion that the government always lies.”

Some key quotes from the article:

“We aren't saying that reporters shouldn't be skeptical, and they certainly have a duty to report when a war is going badly. Where the press corps goes wrong is in always assuming the worst about military and government motives.”

“Certainly a press corps that wants readers to forgive its own mistakes might start by showing a little more respect and understanding for the men and women who risk their lives to defend the country.”

Monday, May 16, 2005

More Thoughts on the Black-White Divide

Sometimes the complexity and enormity of a problem can lead to paralysis. But this needn’t and shouldn’t be the case.

Stephen Carter—the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University—recounts a personal experience in his book, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy. Describing the fear and discomfort of moving into an all-white neighborhood during the racially charged 1960s, he writes:

. . . in 1966, sitting on the front step of our grand new house in our grand new lonely white neighborhood of Washington, I felt as if we had moved to the fearsome Virginia of the sixties, which in my child’s mind, captured all the horror of what I know of how white people treated black people. I watched the strange new people passing us and wordlessly watching back, and I knew we were not welcome here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here. I knew . . .

And all at once, a white woman arriving home from work at the house across the street from our turned and smiled with obvious delight and waved and called out, “Welcome!” in a booming, confident voice I would come to love. She bustled into her house, only to emerge, minutes later, with a huge tray of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, which she carried to our porch and offered around with her ready smile, simultaneously feeding and greeting the children of a family she had never met—and a black family at that—with nothing to gain for herself excerpt perhaps the knowledge that she had done the right thing. We were strangers, black strangers, and she went out of her way to make us feel welcome. This woman’s name was Sara Kestenbaum, and she died much too soon, but she remains, in my experience, one of the great exemplars of all that is best about civility.

Sara Kestenbaum’s special contribution to civility back in 1966 was to create for us a sense of belonging where no had existed before. And she did so even though she had never seen any of us in her life. She managed, in the course of a single day, to turn us from strangers into friends, a remarkable gift that few share. . . .

This story illustrates what I mean when I say that civility is the set of sacrifices we make for the sake of our fellow passengers. Sarah Kestenbaum was generous to us, giving of herself with no benefit to herself, and she demonstrated not merely a welcome that nobody else offered, but a faith in us, a trust that we were people to whom one could and should be generous. And so we have the beginning of a definition of the sacrificial civility we have been discussing:

Civility has two parts:

generosity, even when it is costly,

and trust, even where there is risk.

. . . By greeting us as she did, in the midst of a white neighborhood and a racially charged era, Sara was generous when nobody forced her to be, and trusting when there was no reason to be. Of such risks is true civility constructed.

This illustrates one of the reasons that I am hesitant to make the focus of race discussions about “justice.” Don’t misunderstand: I believe justice—properly defined—is true, biblical, and necessary. But “justice” as the main theme of racial discussions says far to little. Let’s say that Sara Kestenbaum went home from work every night and watched television. She never spoke to the white kids in the neighborhood, and she certainly never made them cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. If that were the case, then it would be entirely “just” for her to similarly ignore the new black kids who moved into the neighborhood. In other words, justice, important as it is, doesn’t require the generosity, trust, and risk of which Mr. Carter so eloquently speaks.

Yes the issues are complex. Yes the problems are serious. But how much could change in your neighborhood and the lives of those with whom you live and work, if we would simply take Jesus’ command seriously: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Sara Kestenbaum didn’t write any books (or articles, or blogs). She wasn’t a politician. She was just an ordinary person who took a proactive step of love toward those who didn't feel like they belonged or were accepted.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Thoughts on the Black-White Divide

Most of us recognize that despite significant steps in education and legal resolution, there still exists a significant divide in the United States between blacks and whites.

Whites, for the most part, tend to view the United States as a generally colorblind society, free of overt, explicit racism. Racism is something that an older generation believed, or it is something that only something believed today by rednecks with a Confederate flag on their truck. Problems within the black community, they would argue, are largely due to black culture. They nod their heads when Bill Cosby says some hard words to the black community, wondering why no other black leaders are saying the obvious.

Blacks, on the other hand, tend to view America as a racially divided country. Because whites don’t walk in their shoes and don’t listen to their experience, whites don’t really have a clue as to what it’s like to be black in America. Few whites say explicitly racist things, but at the same time, few whites recognize that the structure of society—its economics, its educational system, its good-ol-boy network of advancing in business—prohibits black progress. Whites want to forget about the history of slavery and move on. But many blacks feel that this is na├»ve, wrong, and insensitive—ignoring that enslavement continues to bear its dysfunctional, destructive fruit. Whites are also clueless about their subtle actions and words which continue to perpetuate suspicion among whites and feelings of being different and inferior among blacks.

In short, both blacks and whites feel that the “other side” needs to change, and that will make things right.

The situation, in some ways, is enormously complex. But in reality, it is at the same time amazing simple. The root of the problems trace to one thing: sin. And the solution to the problems rest in on thing: the cross. And the path to get there is only one: grace.

I believe in common grace, and I believe in natural law. Politically, I also believe in incrementalism. For example, I would argue that even apart from supernatural revelation, all of us should, and do, know that abortion is wrong. I believe that arguments can be developed that show this, and that don’t explicitly appeal to God or his written Word. Politically, I believe we should support legislation that moves us along the path of making abortion rare and then unthinkable. This is a good task, and an important one. But it can never be sufficient. Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to forfeit his soul?” So we can ask, “What does it profit a man to save an unborn child only to forfeit that baby’s soul?” Yes, saving the unborn is essential. I believe God has called us to it. But he also calls the church to something more: saving not only the physical life of that baby, but then being used of God to save that baby’s soul.

So it is with the race debates and the race divide. We may produce a perfectly harmonious society with perfect equality in every way. But what good is that if that society, having attended all the diversity-awareness seminars that exist, goes harmoniously to hell?

On this blog I have frequently cited Thomas Sowell. I have no idea what Sowell thinks of Christ. To my knowledge, he has never written about the most important question any of us can ever ask. But the main reason I cite Sowell is that, if he is not a believer in Christ, he has received a great deal of common grace, and is able to say many true things. His particular gift is in using logic, study, and history to show why so many proposed solutions are wrongheaded and based on untruth. At the same time, I hope that my frequent citation of Sowell does not give the mistaken impression that I think he has the final answers. Let me say it loud and clear: final answers can only be found in the cross. The cross levels all of our pride. It cuts out all of our boasting. It destroys arrogance and cockiness and victimology and whining. Those who stand at the cross have found true reconciliation.

Let us therefore flee together to Calvary.