Thursday, November 22, 2007

Exotic Animals

Recently I got a hold of Allan Anderson's book "An Introduction to Pentecostalism—Global Charismatic Christianity". It so happens that Anderson, a professor at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., was an acquaintance of the pastor at our church here in Land-In-Between.

Part One of Anderson's book, which was entitled "Historical Development of Pentecostal Distinctives", was interesting and very informative. It covered the subject from a global perspective, rather than being confined to events in North America. This part of the book was worthwhile.

However, Part Two of the book was a different matter. It was entitled "Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology in Context". It written in a manner very typical of a modernist academician, being over larded up in places with puffy verbiage and highfalutin terminology (e.g. "Christological construct" and "pneumatological and missiological dimensions"). And, more importantly, Anderson does not write from the perspective of faith. Instead, Anderson takes his stance on that high and lofty vantage point known as the Tower of Humanist Autonomy—where Man makes himself the measure of all things, and God is reduced to a mere human "construct". Therefore, Part Two was written according to what's academically fashionable, at times veering into dreary Political Correctness. And he liked to cite Harvey Cox.

Besides that, in places Anderson flat out got things wrong. This was mostly because of his wearing the Blinders of Multiculturalism. But I guess if one is going to be a professor at a university, and maintain your tenure, wearing the blinders is very much obligatory nowadays.

Now I know how people of faith talk. People who actually believe don't go around talking as if they didn't, nor do they recite Harvey Cox as if he were some kind of authority on spiritual matters. As far as I could tell, Anderson doesn't write like a person who has any real belief in that good old, yesterday-today-and-forever blood-bought foursquare Gospel of Salvation. Consequently, Part Two was so stuffy and irksome to read that I had difficulty trying to wade through it, mostly because it was such a yawner.

If a "theology" doesn't have the effect of making you fall down on your face and worship Almighty God, then I have little use for it. The Tower of Humanist Autonomy is a castle built on air anyhow, because someone greater has arrived¹, and what he says actually matters.

But speaking of yawners, years ago when I was a spring chicken, the writings of Thomas J. J. Altizer were the big fad on campus. But who at this time can remember that even Time Magazine once celebrated him? But if at that time he was acclaimed should be no surprise when you consider what kind of outfit Time is². And I remember once trying to read something he wrote. It was clear to me then that the only way to write such rubbish is to get a PhD in theology. But does anybody remembers Altizer, other than as a footnote in somebody's doctoral dissertation or as someone mentioned in a Wikipedia article? Once it's out of Time, it passes out of mind. Nowadays the academic fads are different, and Time has moved on to other things, but the underlying attitudes remain unchanged. The heart is the same, it's just a different face. Academicians now like to dissect charismatics instead. I guess it's because they consider them to be such exotic animals.

On the other hand, while I was down in SoCal, I got to meet my wife's nephew Michael, who has the heart of a true pastor. Now he is a person of vibrant faith, and I greatly enjoyed being around him, because people of faith talk about those things that concern me the most. And I feel a thousand-fold closer to Michael than to stuffy academicians like Allan Anderson.

¹ See Luke 11:23.

² But then again, Time has often failed to discern the times. And for a very long time now, everybody at Time has been afflicted with a bad case of apistia. In this case, however, time doesn't heal all wounds.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Overturned Land

I just got back from visiting Southern California (or "SoCal"), where I grew up, and where I once lived for many years. This is the first time I've seen the area for about fourteen years. We were down to visit some of my wife's relatives. Here are some of my notes:

If the place were the planet Mars, it couldn't have felt more alien to me now. Everything seemed altered. The land I knew once had been overturned and in its place was a very different and strange country — yet which had, scattered here and there, a few disconnected pieces from my memory. Flying in on our jet into Ontario Airport, the first thing I noticed was that Mt. San Antonio (called "Mt. Baldy" by the locals) was devoid of all vegetation and now looked as bare as any mountain in the Mojave Desert. In the past, despite its epithet, it had some chaparral brush on its flanks, at least as I remembered it. Our relatives told us that a few years back a great fire had denuded the entire south side of the mountain. Also, regarding the rest of the general landscape, things seemed much drier to me, as if desertification were taking hold. And indeed we were told that the area is still in the grip of a drought that has lasted for several years now.

SoCal is truly the land of the magical mountains that disappear and reappear. On some days, the mountains stand out and are very tall and impressive. On other days, the mountains disappear entirely from view, as if some powerful wizard, using great sorcery, had removed them from the earth. Of course, what really happens is the change in the amount of smog in the air, depending on the weather conditions.

If SoCal was already cosmopolitan fourteen years ago when I moved away, it is ten times more so now. Today, it almost seems preposterous to try to use categories like "majority" and "minorities" to describe the population. Everything is jumbled. Any person you meet on the street could come from any group as well as another. It doesn't matter.

SoCal is well on it's way to becoming a truly bilingual part of the United States. For example, if you walk into a Target store, the first thing that is noticeable is that everything is labeled in two languages, English and Spanish. SoCal has always had this dual aspect to some degree in the past. It's much more pronounced now. The nearest analogy would be Canada, where everything is labeled in either French or English.

SoCal already had plenty of suburban sprawl, when I lived there. There is now even more sprawl. It was astonishing. But the newer houses are nice, and many have an "old-California-mission" look about them. Many have clay tile roofs, or at least something that looks like that. And we were told that the housing is outrageously expensive. The town where I grew up now has a freeway, the 210, that traverses its northern side. My wife's relatives often use it to commute to work.

The pace of life in SoCal is even more frenetic.

I liked Disneyland.

We visited the grave of one of my wife's sisters out at the National Cemetery in Riverside.

On the way back, we went to the Harvest campus. This was our old church, when we still lived in Riverside, California. It's a mega-church now, and we were a astonished at the changes. We drove in, parked, and got out to look around. I found the church office and walked in and said, "Hello, can I talk to Greg Laurie?" The receptionists explained that Greg wasn't there that day. I said, "That's unfortunate as I don't get down to California very often. I knew Greg back when he had hair." One of the receptionists had already seen me at the home of some mutual friends, and so she already knew that I was kidding around and wasn't any sort of psychopathic stalker out to get Greg. A little disappointed that Greg had eluded us, we walked around the campus some more. Harvest had built a very large, top-notch bookstore and cafe. In front of the offices and the bookstore, there was a large, outdoor overflow area, that had a fountain and a big video display. We looked around the bookstore. I spotted a section having some of Greg's books. I felt sure that Greg has ghost writers to help him write these books, as Greg is not really a "literary" sort of person, although behind the pulpit he is a great communicator.

Ms. Moonbones felt overwhelmed by the place and wanted to get back on the road. (We had a rental car.) She said her niece, with whom we were staying, was probably right. If we were still living in SoCal, we probably would be going to a different church by now, because Harvest has just gotten much too big.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Three Mysterious Numbers

There are three mysterious triangular numbers in the New Testament. The first is 153 which occurs in John 21:11. The second is 276 which occurs in Acts 27:37. And the third is 666 which occurs in Revelations 13:18.

These three numbers have certain curious relationships with each other, which I will endeavor to illuminate.

First, there are some elementary properties we should notice. Using the formula for the nth triangular number, T(n)=n(n+1)/2, it's easy to see that 153 is the 17th triangular number, 276 is the 23rd triangular number, and 666 is the 36th triangular number. And 36 is the square of 6.

Also, we note that the greatest common divisor of these three triangular numbers is 3. Notice also that 3 is the divine number, since it represents the Godhead.

The three largest prime numbers that divide each of the three without dividing the other two are 17, 23, and 37, for 153 is divisible only by 17, and 276 is divisible only by 23, and 666 is divisible only by 37.

Looking at the context of the verses cited above, we notice that the three triangular number have some sort of connection with water, which is one of the primordial elements mentioned in 2 Peter 3:5. The number 666 is of course the infamous "number of the Beast", and in Revelations 13:1 the Beast is said to come up out of the sea. As for the other two numbers' connection with water, that is left as an excercise for the reader.

The sum of the three triangular number is 1095, which when divided by 3 gives 365, the number of days in a year, the primary unit for measuring the seasons.

The three prime divisors 17, 23, and 37 that were mentioned are when added together the sum 77. The number 7 occuring very frequently in the Scriptures as the number of completion.

Using 7 as a modulus, and 3 as the base, the discrete logarithms of the three triangular numbers are respectively 9, 7, and 6. This is because under modular congruencies 3^9=153 and 3^7=276 and 3^6=666 under modulo 7. Furthermore, the product of 9×7×6 is the number 378. But the number 378 is itself the 27th triangular number, 27 being the cube of 3.

We can make the observation that (17+23+37)+(9+7+6)=99. However, the number 9 is the number peculiar to the angelic creation (whereas 6 is peculiar to Man). And 9 happens to be the square of 3.

That 2²+3²+5²+7²+11²+13²+17²=666 is also very curious. In other words, the "number of the Beast" is also the sum of the squares of the prime numbers up through 17, which was the prime divisor we associated with 153.

It was on the 17th day in the month that the Noachian Flood struck (Genesis 7:11). And it was also on the 17th day that Noah's Ark came to rest in the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). This is the first occurrence of the number 17 in the Scriptures. And here also is another connection with water. The last occurrence of 17 happens to be in Jeremiah 32:9, where Jeremiah the prophet redeems his inheritance in Anathoth for 17 shekels of silver.

The prime divisor 23 associated with 276 also has an odd connection with humanity. Supposedly there are 23 chromosome pairs in human cells. And there are 23 disks in the human spine.

The number pair 23 and 7, which are associated with 276, happen to occur together in 2 Chronicles 7:10, where it is recorded that the 23rd day of the 7th month marked the joyful ending of the dedication of the first Temple, which was built by Solomon.

As for 37, which is associated with 666, there are supposed to be 37 genes in the human mitochondrial genome. And it requires 37 skeletal muscles to move the human hand.

[I'll see what other things turn up about these numbers and add to this later]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Skewering CCM

I came across this interesting blog (now defunct) which, among other things, specializes in skewering the Contemporary Christian Music industry. And I think that industry has long needed skewering and has been overdue for it. The blogger was very blunt, even gruff. Here's a sample of his bluntness:
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christian music websites should edify the body of Christ, or that the body of Christ should look to such establishments (particularly those hosted by Wordpress) for encouragement. I’m being ridiculous, obviously, but this sort of love-and-peace "nobody can tell the truth" attitude is one reason why Christian music is so bad. Look at the way Christian musicians are often presented: they are inspirational figures who hear from God and, like some sort of musical oracle, transform the spirit into this revelatory source of power — to encourage / challenge / mystify your spiritual walk. We’re bothered by that myth, which is nothing more than professional marketing (and to be fair, the CCM industry and media are far more guilty of this than the artists themselves). This music defaults on the grandiose promises on which it is sold, and anyone who has studied art for the most limited amount of time will tell you that. It’s not impressive, not challenging, not theological, not genius, not spiritual, and very rarely even intelligent. And to say so is not to unleash a malicious, slanderous rant, it is to simply state a fact. So is pretending that Christian music is something it’s not (which is essentially lying) somehow helping the body of Christ? Is it somehow some sacred operation that needs reverence and protection?
Though it is blunt, I think it is truthful. Finally, someone has the courage to point out that the "emperor has no clothes".

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Francis Fukuyama

I am currently reading a recently published book, which turned up on the new book shelf at my local library, by the well known author Francis Fukuyama. It is entitled "American at the Crossroads, Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy". I'm about half-way through and so far Fukuyama has proven himself to be a excellent writer, who elucidates his points clearly and in a sensibly organized fashion. Also, at the beginning of his book, Fukuyama provides a brief history of neoconservatism in America, which was very informative. So far I don't see any reason not to recommend his book.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Imported Flags

Yesterday, I went to the 4th of July parade here in Podunk City. It was a very warm and sunny day, down in the main street. The parade began at 11 o'clock and lasted for about two hours. My wife and I were there, along with several of my in-laws. It had everything that you probably would encounter in any town in Land-In-Between. There was the local National Guard, lots of veteran groups, several high school bands, plenty of cheerleaders, many horses and people riding them, entries from the local businesses, radio stations with floats blaring loud music, motorcycles, hot rods, old classic cars, charity groups, the Shriners riding funny little motorized vehicles and their famous "octocycle", the mayor and city councilmen riding in various vehicles, the local Democrat organization (dressed in blue), and the Republicans (dressed in Red down farther down in a different slot), and so forth, and so on. The Republicans had a few kids walking in the parade carrying large buckets full of little American flags, which they were passing out to all the spectators lined up on both sides of the street. I got one of those flags. In the corner was printed the words Made in China. It's a little ironic, isn't it?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Horrible Youth Bands

Why are "youth bands" at church so awful?

Today, the pastors had the youth band come and lead the worship this Sunday morning. The lead singer was not very good, to put it gently. And my wife, who is a good judge of music, tells me his voice was barely "bubble gum" quality. The accompanying girl vocalists didn't harmonize at all. But what was painfully noticeable that the lead singer was trying to act like Sanjaya Malakar, there up on the dais.

Now the music minister is a very accomplished musician. He really knows his stuff. And in fact he was also up there doing a guitar backup. So my question is: "Even though he knows better, why did he allow this?" Generally speaking, every "youth band" I've heard in various churches has been been, well, awful. Yet pastors always seem to showcase them. Why do they do this? I am not entirely sure but I have a theory about it.

Our entire culture is insufferably "youth oriented". And it serves the financial interests of some large corporations to keep things that way. Therefore, the youths are incessantly brainwashed by advertising into thinking that the entire Universe revolves around them. Moreover, I suspect that pastors nowadays are so desperate to keep the kids in church that they will even resort to a bit of dishonesty. Let me explain what I mean. They will have "youth services", say on Friday nights, during which the youth bands get to play their stuff. I guess pastors are thinking that it must be doing some good if they can get the kids to hang out at church, as if godliness were like wet paint on the walls — if the kids hang around long enough, some of it is bound to rub off on them. Consequently, whatever music the youth like, whatever draws them, is automatically regarded as what flies.

Next, to further pat the kids on the back, to let them know how wonderful and great they are, they will have the "youth band" play on Sundays, even if it is painfully obvious that the kids involved have no musical ability — and if the pastors keep this up long enough, they might end up driving away even more adults. But that doesn't matter, I guess — we're a youth oriented society, so who cares about the middle-aged geezers think?

But for pastors to do this is a mistake on two counts, I think. First of all, it only embarrasses everybody, and it's really not very honest. Why tell the kids what great musicians they are when in fact they are not? Secondly, in the long run, always catering to the kids' latest fads and fashions is not going to keep the kids in the faith. This is another example of giving people what they want and not what they actually need. And right now, what kids need the most is to be weaned off their incipient "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" that is so rampant in our country and what they're getting indoctrinated in everyday at school. Furthermore, every now and then, the kids just need a good beating with the Dreaded Clue Bat of Reality. The kids have to learn that they, as much as anyone else, need to become saints and not merely consumers. I daresay that the big majority of kids in church nowadays will abandon any faith they might have had once they reach college, where they will encounter some truly hardcore, militant secularism, along with a sulfurous all-pervasive atmosphere of devil-may-care turpitude. In the long run, getting a weekly dose of happy-clappy, bubble-gum teeny-bopper music at church isn't going to help them.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Societal Collapse

I just finished the recent book by Susan Wise Bauer entitled The History of the Ancient World. It's a very good read and puts in one volume an compact overview of ancient history up till the time of the Roman emperor Constantine. Ancient history is fascinating for me. I could hardly put the book down.

I did notice that toward the beginning of the book, the chapters tend to be shorter. That's mostly because the further back in time one goes there is less and less that is known for sure.

I must say, after reading about the Roman Empire and how its emperors actually operated, for the Church to have cozied up with Constantine seems even more appalling to me than it did before.

Formula for Societal Collapse
After studying Susan Wise Bauer's book on ancient history, it wasn't too hard for me to come up with a formula for societal collapse:

B × ( D + I + C ) = Societal Collapse Metric

  • B = Breakdown of internal civil order, lawlessness, etc.
  • D = Disease, pestilence
  • I = Massive and unstoppable infiltration by outside invaders
  • C = Climate disruptions, often producing famines

Now lets tally this up for the U.S.:

  • B…increasing internal dissension, laws not enforced…check
  • D…increasing number of drug resistant diseases…check
  • I…unstoppable mass migration from Mexico…check
  • C…Climate change, long drought in Western U.S.…check

I guess it all tallies up. Of course, societal collapse doesn't happen overnight. But Rome wasn't destroyed in a day either.

So please continue with your usual shopping plans.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Virgins' Day

Today was Mother's Day. About a half-hour before church, we went over to Starbucks for some liquid wake-up. On Ms. Moonbone's cup, the following was printed:
The Way I See It #225

People don't read enough. And what reading we do is cursory, without absorbing the subtleties and nuances that lie deep within—Wow, you've stopped paying attention, haven't you? People can't even read a coffee cup without drifting off.

—David Shore, Creator and executive producer of the television drama House.
This is very funny for being self-referential. But who has time to read the stuff printed on the cups at Starbucks? We're too busy blogging, writing witticisms that nobody reads.

As I said, today was Mother's Day, and of course the entire service at church was a big whoop-dee-doo for all the mothers. There was a big tent set up outside where chocolate was being served, along with other treats. After the service, the moms filed out first to go to the tent to commiserate with one another.

Now Mother's Day is one of those funny American cultural traditions which are accepted without any question. According to The Fount of All Knowledge, the Wikipedia, Mother's Day was originally imported from England by social activist Julia Ward Howe, after the Civil War. Yes, she was the Unitarian lady who wrote the jingoistic "Battle Hymn of the Republic", but who later decided to promote pacifism and women's suffrage. However it came about, Mother's Day is here; and its perpetuation also serves the interests of various merchants by way of drumming up more sales of flowers, cards, candy, and whatnot.

And it's completely infiltrated the churches; there's no escaping it. Every church I've ever been in always has Mother's Day. Furthermore, there's absolutely no way that anyone would dare criticize this. To do so would be viewed as something so odious, so horribly unspeakable, that it would be regarded on the same level with pulling out a gun and shooting one's own mother. Yet I can't help but wonder how those women in church who don't have children must feel about it. Judging by all appearances this morning, they seem to be a tiny minority. I guess they have learned to demurely bear with the festivities and to be patient. There's nothing to stop them from sneaking into line for the chocolate. Who's going to check?

But there is something I've always wondered: why isn't there a Virgins' Day? Now if I were to ask out loud at church a question like this, I am sure a strange silence would fall over the room and people would stare at me. But why not a Virgins' Day? Long ago, virginity was considered a good quality to have. It was a state that once was held in high esteem by the Church. Having a Virgins' Day at church would be a public reaffirmation of the value of virginity, as well as the virtuousness of continence and purity. But, sadly, when we consider how much the evangelical church has compromised with the larger American culture, the answer is obvious: there are just not that many virgins.

Try to imagine a Virgins' Day, when the pastor asks all the virgins in church to stand up to be applauded and to receive some token of honor.

Okay, let's just drop the subject.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Variegated Life

Book Review

Title: John Donne, The Reformed Soul
Author: John Stubbs.

So far I've read several biographies. Of those, the two people whose lives have engrossed me the most were Aimee Semple McPherson and John Donne. I guess it's because they both were xtians and both had convoluted edges about their lives. By different routes, they both ended up being preachers.

Back in 2004, the Royal Society of Literature awarded John Stubbs the Jerwood Award for his biography of John Donne. I must say that Stubbs definitely earned every bit of it. His book was very well written and conveyed a vivid picture of John Donne's variegated life and the times in which he lived, during the transition from Elizabethan to Jacobean England.

The book is now out in an American edition from W.W. Norton. As I recall, there was an earlier edition printed in the U.K. under a somewhat different title.

But I would like to point out a quote, given at the start of chapter 17 in the book. There Stubbs is quoting Donne from his Sermons (vol.2, NÂș13, page 280, 19th December 1619):
The true Church, Donne insisted, "Loves the name Catholique". If one followed "Those universall, and fundamentall doctrines, which in all Christian ages, and in all Christian Churches, have been agreed by all to be necessary to salvation…then thou art a true Catholique."
The emphasis was mine. Of course, being a Protestant, Donne had a larger and more universal idea in mind when here he used the word "Catholique", certainly not in the more limited sense that nowadays we mean by the term "Roman Catholic". But what is especially interesting to me is Donne's use of the word "fundamentall", by which he was referring to something that exists at the very core of things—those doctrines that simply cannot be let go of. Because if someone lets go and departs from them, he essentially has ceased being part of the Church and has become something altogether different.

For if there is nothing that is genuinely fundamental, and everything can be subtracted out, with absolutely everything being negotiable, then surrender is really all that is left over. Nevertheless, it does seem that the word "fundamental" does go back a long ways and is not merely something that got started back in the 1920s.

I highly recommend John Stubb's book.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

We're Cannibals Here

I am currently reading Jeffery L. Sheler's book "Believers—A Journey Into Evangelical America". Mr. Sheler is a billed as a "Contributing Editor for Religion" for the U.S. News & World Report.

He's written a very interesting book, but he tries to pass himself off as someone who is an "insider" in the culture and therefore possesses special insight that his colleagues in the news business lack. However, after reading his book, it is hard for me to buy into his claim of being "one of us". He might have started out that way years ago, but what he is now is something different. Although his writing is fluid, his journalism competent, and the book is one I would recommend — it reads much like a typical news magazine article — yet I propose that it also could be considered excellent example of Crimsonism. For, taking his notebook and tape recorder with him, and strapping on his pith helmet, Sheler basically went on an extended anthropological expedition to explore that strange and alien culture that inhabits the vast hinterlands of America — at least it's strange and alien to his colleagues back home in the mainstream news media.

Now I could have a hilarious good time explicating the multitude of places in his book where the subtext betrays his underlying attitudes. But I'm not going to do that here because it would require plenty of work, there's lots of text to cover, and nobody reads this blog anyway. However, I don't think that Sheler set out to be consciously and deliberately biased, especially not in any malicious sort of way; it's just that everything he saw was refracted through the accommodating, secularist prism he has acquired. After all, he didn't get to be an editor of U.S. News & World Report by going around preaching the Gospel.

That might have made his colleagues a little too uncomfortable. There could have been Curled Lips and Furrowed Brows Of Disapproval. But it is understandable, because, to get ahead, one has to be accommodating with the Educated and Enlightened who control the important organs of our society.

However, and I do give him credit for this, he did endeavor to accurately describe the natives, their peculiar manners and customs, their odd beliefs and folklore; but still, that ever present subtext in his book is there; I guess it reassures his Educated and Enlightened colleagues back home that their feelings of intellectual and moral superiority are entirely justified. Beyond all doubt, they will be not be too uncomfortable reading his book about his journey.

"Yes", they might tell themselves, "while Sheler has provided us a fascinating account of his excursion among the primitives, it turns out by all accounts that we really are superior and progressive after all. And, though certainly sincere — and maybe dangerously so — those quaint evangelical xtians are inherently inferior, obviously. Maybe it's something in their genetics. Who knows? Maybe someday the condition will be treatable. Nonetheless, our public schools should do everything possible to extirpate their retrograde ideas from the minds of their impressionable children. They certainly don't operate at our level of learned sophistication, for nobody as enlightened as we are would hold such ridiculous ideas and silly notions as they do. Belief in a Creation? Pish-posh! Sin? A backwards concept! The Bible? What rubbish! And, perhaps, they shouldn't be allowed to vote, as Garrison Keillor has suggested. But certainly it's questionable whether any of their ilk should be allowed to hold an important office in our government."

Somehow I don't think Sheler's book will change his colleagues basic attitudes, at least not dramatically. But they should find his book amusing, and maybe even entertaining — in a way similar to how a pubescent teenage boy might enjoy thumbing through the National Geographic magazine gawking at the pictures of exotic, semi-nude people in humid, sweltering New Guinea.

Brethren, the next time a smarmy reporter from some big name news magazine wants to interview you because you're "evangelical xtians" and he's doing a story, try having a little fun with him: Tell him you're cannibals and ask if he'd like to come over for dinner.

Furthermore, as far as the natives are concerned, nothing in the book indicates that Sheler himself takes any of their beliefs seriously, as far as I can tell. So when they read his book, his colleagues will experience no alarm on that account. Sheler didn't "go native" on them, during his long journey into the Heart Of…

Oh, The Horror… Oops, I'm waxing too allusive here. But, after all, had Sheler come back from his expedition telling his colleagues that these really are The End Times, and that they really do need to repent and believe, how long do you suppose he would have kept his job? Would his book even have been published?

Finally, I did notice, beginning on page 205, that Sheler mentions Greg Laurie, the pastor of my church back when I lived down in California. While Sheler watched Greg preach onstage, he apparently never interviewed Greg in person. It's too bad he didn't, because he missed a delightful opportunity. It would have been a very lively interview.

Addendum: One thing I noticed while reading the book was that Sheler relied very heavily on Mark Noll and George Marsden for his take on the history of Xnty in this country. Noll and Marsden must have something like a monopoly on the subject, because whenever somebody in the news media needs to consult an "expert" on Xtian history in America, Noll and Marsden appear to be the only names in his Rolodex. But I vaguely recall seeing where they, more or less, belittled the late Francis Schaeffer's ministry in some of their writings — one book in particular I recall, read years ago, whose title escapes me right now — consequently, I have been a little wary of them. It always seemed to me that they had an axe to grind, mainly to prove just how much smarter they are than anyone else.

Addendum: The book I was trying to recall was entitled "Reflections on Francis Schaeffer," published back in 1984, which was a collection of essays by various authors, and which was edited by Ronald W. Ruegsegger. I remember it as mostly containing a lot of silly nitpicking by some worldly-wise stuffed-shirts from Academe. And, as I recall, it was either Marsden or Noll, or both, who seemed rather petty to me. Maybe Schaeffer wasn't fussy enough for them about larding his writings with copious footnotes or including reams of scholarly bibliography in his books. But after spending years ministering to people whose souls have been destroyed by Modernism, at least he grasped better than anyone else what the big picture is; he understood what's really at stake. I'll take Francis Schaeffer any day over the niggling Lilliputians who criticized him.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

All Purpose Word

It's very odd that neither Bryan A. Garner's "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage" nor Wilson Follett's "Modern American Usage" nor H.W. Fowler's "Modern English Usage" have an entry for the word "fundamentalist".

Yet it is such a peculiar word, and it gets tossed around so much nowadays. And lots of seemingly disparate groups of people get lumped together using this all-embracing word. For example, Joe Schmo, a top notch news reporter from Time Magazine, will handily use it to take a Bible-clinging Southern Baptist in Texas and somehow toss him in together with a shaheed in Syria who's wiring up his suicide belt. For Joe Schmo, somehow they're both considered "fundamentalists." How strange that this one word manages to embrangle so many different things. Yet nobody among the literati has tried to sort out all its nuances.

I suspect that this word has an interesting history and would be worth studying all on its own, from a philological point of view.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Marginal Movement

Currently I'm reading P.J. O'Rourke's little book entitled On The Wealth of Nations. In it he tries to explain, in condensed form, Adam Smith's weightier tome published back in 1776.

My only complaint about O'Rourke's writing style is his desire always to be jocular. He'll give a pithy quotation from Adam Smith and then try to attach to it some funny quip of his own. It gets in the way sometimes, for in several places it ends up only obscuring the point that O'Rourke is trying to make. It also ends up confusing what Adam Smith was trying to say. I think it will leave the reader confused, wondering "what the heck is this all about anyhow?"

Another book I recently finished was Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity. Now I have always despised sociology, even going back to that day when I was in the library at my college. Then, as I was pondering what major to pursue, I was picking through some sociology journals and was astonished at the level of pretentious gobbledygook they contained. "Do I want to spend my life reading and writing this stuff?" I think I must have had enough good sense to say "no". Now some of Stark's book was interesting, but only some, and my esteem for sociology wasn't increased any by reading it. In his book, he tries to apply the quasi-scientific methodologies and theories of sociology in an attempt to fill the gaps in our knowledge of early church history. He is acutely concerned to explain how a "marginal movement" managed to take over the entire Western World. (This has always been a very disturbing subject for the Enlightenment, for it suggests the fearful prospect that there might have been something supernatural about it; and at all costs the supernatural must be explained away.) The book was an interesting exercise, but the conclusions were sometimes dubious. For my part, I'll just stick to real history, such as written by historians, who do the tedious work of reading musty old documents written in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. But nothing in the book was more absurd that Stark's claim that there were only about two to three thousand xtians spread around the Roman Empire in the 60s A.D. Maybe they didn't number in the millions, but there were certainly enough xtians in Corinth alone to keep Paul busy enough, not counting all the churches elsewhere. And there were certainly enough living in Achaia for them to organize a relief effort for the impoverished Jewish believers living in Palestine.

By the way, I've heard it said once that sociology is the so-called science that says what everybody already knows in a jabberwocky language that nobody can understand.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Book Review

Title: Pessimism
Author: Joshua Foa Dienstag.

Dienstag did an excellent job covering the "pessimist" Enlightenment philosophers, and his book was very readable. Now the biggies among the Pessimists were Camus, Cioran, Freud, Leopardi, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, and Unamuno — though their ranking may not be in that order. Some were bigger Pessimists than others. For some reason, Dienstag included Cervantes among the Pessimists, although I don't consider him to be a genuine Pessimist (he had too much mirth about him).

Nevertheless, dear brethren, steel yourselves before you read Dienstag's book because it is truely a look into blackest Tartarus.

Dienstag gives a basic anatomy of the Enlightenment Pessimist viewpoint, those basic aspects the Pessimists tended to share with each other. They are comprised of following four agonizing components:
  • The Burden of Time.
  • The Irony of History.
  • The Absurdity of Existence.
  • The Questions of Suicide, Resignation, or its Opposite.
However, everything they fussed about is perfectly answered by the Resurrection of the Christ from the dead. It's too bad they refused to believe it.

"…whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18)

But somewhere someone has pointed out that, generally speaking, philosophers refuse to come to Christ. I think it was Augustine who said about them that the reason they won't come is because "Christ is humble, but ye are proud."

Dienstag also covered the three, loosely historical, phases of Pessimism:
  • Cultural Pessimism.
  • Metaphysical Pessimism.
  • Existential Pessimism.
Dienstag gave Nietzsche his own special section in the book, being a special category of "Dionysian Pessimist". Nietzsche was the vehement one who later went entirely fruitcake. But no matter how you slice the pie, there's a hardy dollop of Pessimism jam packed into this short book.

Now, the one odd thing I did find about Dienstag's treatment is that he entirely left out three other very important points the Enlightenment Pessimists also shared in common:
  • The worship of Autonomous Reason.
  • The hostility towards the Gospel.
  • The shared assumption that Man moved up, or evolved, from a "savage state" to a "civilized one" (i.e., there was never a "Fall" downwards).
The Pessimists already hold these in common with the Enlightenment, so I guess that's why Dienstag thought it goes without saying.

Now the Bible does say that "scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires" (2 Pet 3:3). And right on schedule, the scoffers have indeed arrived — they just like to call themselves the "Enlightenment".

Finally, if you already have no hope, I must say Pessimism is a well written but perfectly depressing book to read, but please don't read it, as you might go out and slit your wrists afterwards. And indeed I can't blame the Pessimists for rolling in despair, existential or whatnot, since they have rejected the only Fountain of Living Waters there is and have dug for themselves cisterns that cannot hold water. So it's no surprise that they came to the Well of the Enlightenment and found it empty and as dry as dust.