May 2008

31 May 2008

I’ve never thought much of Habitat for Humanity. It always had that vague taint of the (now-trendy!) social gospel and political leftism espoused by regressives like Tony Campolo. Now Habitat is revealing itself by logrolling with Planned Parenthood.

Someone at National Review (back when it was much better) once posited a rule that any organization that is not explicitly conservative will drift leftward over time. I don’t know if Habitat really had to drift too far. I do know this: Not one dollar of our money will be sent to organizations like Habitat or Susan G. Komen.

25 May 2008

Most tourists visit Moscow to see the ballet, the Kremlin, and the churches. There weren’t any Stalin tours when I was over there a few years ago. Requesting such from a Russian would prompt a suspicious retort: “Why would you want to see that?” They were amused, even proud, that a foreigner would be interested in their recent history. However, it was their history, and maybe it was still too fresh. They were ready to move on.

Reminders of Stalin were therefore more of the “if you know what to look for” variety: the “wedding cake” skyscrapers, the House on the Embankment (adorned with a Mercedes symbol of all things), the Lubyanka, the grand but unrenovated subway where Stalin spoke during German bombings, and Red Square of course.

And then there was the New Tretyakov gallery. It housed an incredibly interesting collection of Soviet art, including huge portraits of the mustachioed Friend of the Working People. After communism fell in the early 90s, Muscovites didn’t want monuments of Lenin and crew prominently displayed about the city, so they took them down (Stalin had been removed many years before). These dark reminders, including the Dzerzhinsky statue that ominously fronted the Lubyanka before being famously toppled in 1991, were eventually moved to a courtyard adjacent to the art gallery. The unkempt courtyard was coined the “Graveyard of Fallen Monuments.” Someone apparently decided that it was too good of a fate for the statues of Bolshevik monsters, and so gulag sculptures were added here and there.

What a motley sight it was a few years ago, another odd and yet moving spectacle of Russia. Alas, it sounds like less of it remains today.

19 May 2008

There are some really bizarre places in Russia. Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, for one. The modern part is where the glitterati who didn’t make the Kremlin Wall were buried: Yeltsin, Khruschev, Raisa Gorbachev, Mayakovsky, Orlova, Stalin’s second wife, cosmonauts, generals. Even Solzhenitsyn’s censor. Pictures do the totality of Novodevichy Cemetery little justice, but to give you an idea, check out this, this, this, this, and this. There was one particularly hideous grave featuring a bald man’s head jutting almost horizontally out of a rock formation. Alas, I cannot find one picture of it; ours must not have turned out.

Individually these graves at Novodevichy were all quite appalling, as the English might say, and emblematic of man’s boastful pride. The haphazard landscaping at the cemetery added to the bemusing quality of it all.

Don’t miss Novodevichy Cemetery if you go to Moscow. Hopefully you will leave it wanting the humility of a simple marker.

14 May 2008

I don’t agree with Bob Dewaay on everything, but he’s clearly gulped deeply from Reformation (and scriptural!) wells on the matters that really count. He’s one of my favorite commentators on current issues facing the church. His recent article Why Evangelicals are Returning to Rome notes:

[W]hy are literate American Christians running away from sola scriptura at a time when searching the Scriptures (especially using computer technology) has never been easier? On this point I am offering my opinion, but there is good evidence for it. I believe that the lack of gospel preaching has allowed churches to fill up with the unregenerate. The unregenerate are not like “newborn babes who long for the pure milk of the word” (1Peter 2:2). Those who have never received saving grace cannot grow by the means of grace. Those who are unconverted have not drawn near to God through the blood of Christ. But with mysticism, it is possible to feel near to God when one is far from Him. Furthermore, the unconverted have no means of sanctification because they do not have the imputed righteousness of Christ as their starting point and eternal standing. So they end up looking for man-made processes to engineer change through human works because they have nothing else. Those who feel empty because of the “pragmatic promises of the church-growth movement” … may need something far more fundamental than ancient, Catholic, ascetic practices. They may very well need to repent and believe the gospel.

I sometimes wonder where pastors who don’t preach the gospel (or the law) regularly think that people are going to hear it. Certainly not from Joyce Meyer (who isn’t a “pastor” anyway) or Joel Osteen. There’s an arrogance behind it, a “we’ve moved beyond the cross” mentality. Compare that to the formidable R.C. Sproul’s observation that although he has studied the cross of Christ for over 50 years, he still feels that he is “barely scratching the surface of the meaning and significance of [it].”

Dewaay helpfully wraps up the article:

Perhaps the best antidote to rejecting sola scriptura and going back to Rome would be a careful study of the Book of Hebrews. It describes a situation that is analogous to that which evangelicals face today. The Hebrew Christians were considering going back to temple Judaism. … The key problem for them was the tangibility of the temple system, and the invisibility of the Christian faith. Just about everything that was offered to them by Christianity was invisible: the High Priest in heaven, the tabernacle in heaven, the once for all shed blood, and the throne of grace. … But the life of faith does not require tangible visibility (Hebrews 11:1). The Roman Catholic Church has tangibility that is unmatched by the evangelical faith, just as temple Judaism had. Why have faith in the once-for-all shed blood of Christ that is unseen when you can have real blood (that of the animals for temple Judaism and the Eucharistic Christ of Catholicism)? Why have the scriptures of the Biblical apostles and prophets who are now in heaven when you can have a real, live apostle and his teaching Magisterium who can continue to speak for God? … Why have only the Scriptures and the other means of grace when the Roman Church has everything from icons to relics to cathedrals to holy water and so many other tangible religious articles and experiences? I urge my fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the consequences of rejecting sola scriptura as the formal principle of our theology. If my Hebrews analogy is correct, such a rejection is tantamount to apostasy.

09 May 2008

We’ve all experienced the cliches and boredom of a graduation ceremony. There’s that point during the speech where, as Orwell described it, “one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.” That’s what made this Alan Keyes speech memorable when I first saw it on C-Span years ago. It was so strikingly different than the usual flowery nonsense. It spoke of inevitable disappointments and (imperfectly and obtusely) the point of the Christian life.

And at some point in your lives I think you will pass a certain line… where you feel the weight of your past a little bit more than you feel the lure of your future. … [Y]ou will reach a point … where most people most of the time have to acknowledge that all of the wonderful dreams that fill your mind today didn’t quite come true. The books were not written, the films were not all made, the loves were not all enjoyed and somewhere along the way you have to deal with things you already have begun to know. The hard hours and the tough losses, the things that don’t work out and the people who were here yesterday but are gone now, whose love was a certainty that failed, whose hope for you was expressed in ways that you did not understand until it was too late.

I, unlike some folks, I can’t stand up here and say, Well, just go out, dream as you please and everything will happen, success will be yours, all you have to do is believe in yourself!’ This is not true. You can believe in yourself all you like, you’ll still fail, some of you. But in the midst of all of that, in the midst of all the things that go wrong and don’t come out right and don’t quite measure up to what you had hoped would be the case as you sit here today, if you are able to believe in something more powerful, more important, more permanent, more true, more good, more just than you are, then, then you have some hope of real success.

We’ve heard that term “American exceptionalism;” I think many American graduates have great expectations for life. However, then life happens and they realize that they aren’t going to be the center of anything extraordinary in earthly terms. They won’t be St. Augustine, putting an unmistakable stamp on civilization. They likely won’t even attain 15 minutes of fame. Consider, though, that even those obscure fishermen of Galilee, if Christ hadn’t come to them, would’ve lived out their days as obscure fishermen. God raises up and casts down.

And so this, it seems to me, is our purpose: to live our lives modestly, fulfilling our vocations, looking forward to our entry into the presence of God. To not seek fame with the world, but, as Lewis termed it in The Weight of Glory, “fame with God.”

03 May 2008

How can I tell of the rest of creation, with all its beauty and utility, which the divine goodness has given to man to please his eye and serve his purposes, condemned though he is, and hurled into these labors and miseries? Shall I speak of the manifold and various loveliness of sky, and earth, and sea; of the plentiful supply and wonderful qualities of the light; of sun, moon, and stars; of the shade of trees; of the colors and perfume of flowers; of the multitude of birds, all differing in plumage and in song; of the variety of animals, of which the smallest in size are often the most wonderful,— the works of ants and bees astonishing us more than the huge bodies of whales? ; Shall I speak of the sea, which itself is so grand a spectacle, when it arrays itself as it were in vestures of various colors, now running through every shade of green, and again becoming purple or blue … How grateful is the alternation of day and night! how pleasant the breezes that cool the air! how abundant the supply of clothing furnished us by trees and animals! ; Who can enumerate all the blessings we enjoy? If I were to attempt to detail and unfold only these few which I have indicated in the mass, such an enumeration would fill a volume. And all these are but the solace of the wretched and condemned, not the rewards of the blessed. ; What then shall these rewards be, if such be the blessings of a condemned state? What will He give to those whom He has predestined to life, who has given such things even to those whom He has predestined to death? What blessings will He in the blessed life shower upon those for whom, even in this state of misery, He has been willing that His only-begotten Son should endure such sufferings even to death? Thus the apostle reasons concerning those who are predestined to that kingdom: ; He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also give us all things? (Romans 8:32) When this promise is fulfilled, what shall we be? What blessings shall we receive in that kingdom, since already we have received as the pledge of them Christ’s dying? In what condition shall the spirit of man be, when it has no longer any vice at all; when it neither yields to any, nor is in bondage to any, nor has to make war against any, but is perfected, and enjoys undisturbed peace with itself? Shall it not then know all things with certainty, and without any labor or error, when unhindered and joyfully it drinks the wisdom of God at the fountain-head? -Augustine, City of God, XXII