" [W]hatever be the departure of a backsliding child of God, it is recoverable: not a step has he lost but may be retraced; not a grace has decayed but may be restored; not a joy has fled but may be won back …. [F]or every poor, self-condemned, heart-broken, returning soul, there is a lingering affection in the heart of the Father, a welcome in the blood of Jesus, and a restorative power in the operation of the Spirit, and therefore every encouragement to arise and to come to God."
– Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 2000) p. 27
Sorry, sorry for no posts for a number of days. As I mentioned in a previous post I'm busy teaching constitutional law this summer and practicing law at the same time. I'm also busy preparing for the church history class that I'll be teaching when seminary opens in June. I'm halfway through Renwick and Harman's The Story of the Church which I hope to finish today, and next I'll be reading Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language. I finished David Well's Above All Earthly Pow'rs a couple of days ago. I hope to do some posts on his book sometime soon, but for now the following quote will have to do:
"The postmodern world, however, is neither ours to join nor ours to overcome. Despite its glitter and brilliance it conceals its own fallenness and unbelief and so we must not join it. And we cannot overcome it by marketing, or any other kind of technique because these techniques do not scratch the surface of its real issues, which are those of sin. Indeed, it is entirely unnecessary to even think about overcoming the postmodern world because it has already been overcome in its sin. It is only ours to see the victory of Christ on the Cross being realized afresh in the actual circumstances of our time."
— pp. 316-17
There’s a new website on the Da Vinci Code that may be of great interest to those who want to know the truth about it. Lots of resources – “articles, audio, videos, and book recommendations that set the record straight and commend the historic Christian faith.” (See Pastor Charles’ post over at Reformation Theology). Click here for The Truth About Da Vinci.
I’m presently handling a summer class on constitutional law 1 at the University of St. La Salle College of Law this summer – 3 hours a day, 3 times a week, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to teach law again (after almost a year of teaching historical theology at Asian Theological Seminary). These are interesting times to be teaching constitutional law. For example, tonight I’ll be lecturing on separation of powers and of necessity I’ll be touching on the SC’s latest ruling on EO 464. I was up till past midnight trying to finish more than 50 pages of that decision – of course, I do skip a paragraph here and a paragraph there. But I think I got the gist of the whole thing (I hope I did, for the sake of my class!). So nowadays the only books I read are my Bible, David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs (he’s not easy to read so I have to go slowly), and my books on constitutional law. That means, however, I won’t have enough time to post more often on this blog. At any rate, though there’s going to be a slow down somewhat I intend to post on a number of things soon: EO 464 of course, maybe more on Da Vinci, maybe something on Christian faith and secular open-mindedness and maybe my reaction to David Wells’ book after I finish reading it. We’ll see what happens …
"I believe, with Diadochos of Photike, that if at the hour of my death my confidence in God's mercy is unfaltering, I will pass the frontier without trouble and get by the dreadful array of my sins as if they were not there, because of God's grace and the Precious Blood of Christ the Lamb of God, and the compunction He gives to the repentant. And I will, by his mercy, leave them behind forever."
— Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Books 1968) p. 143
"Christians' calling to intellect is the calling to nurture the word, to tend books and foster argument … We serve a talkative God, who does not even seem to be able to do without a library. In his service, we will be concerned for talk and libraries. And some of us will have the privilege of spending a lot of time at that concern."
— Robert Jenson, Essays in Theology of Culture, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1995)
Last night I preached in a hacienda to a group of children and their parents. A number of people raised their hands to indicate that they wanted to receive Christ as their Savior. Today I preached to a group of policemen and after the message some of them thanked me for sharing to them the gospel. There is great joy in preaching the gospel – joy that money can’t buy! No wonder Paul wrote:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
In the matter of religious authority the Spirit and the Word are insolubly conjoined. The Scriptures function in the ministry of the Spirit, and the Spirit functions in the instrument of the Word. In this vital relationship of Spirit and Scripture the Reformers grounded their doctrine of religious authority.
— Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Authority, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1957) p. 29
Sometimes the best answers you can give to a TV interview host are the ones you think of after the show is over! Anyway, here are some of the thoughts that occured to me just a few minutes ago: Regarding being open-minded about new things that come up which threaten the established faith, I could have said something like this: "When something like the Da Vinci Code comes up which makes assertions threatening what I believe I should remind myself that what I believe has stood the test of time and has weathered the storms of controversy throughout the centuries, not to mention that it has proven itself as worthy and true in my experience. This new thing still has to prove itself. I shouldn't dismiss or reject it outright but neither should I put it immediately on the same level as my time-tested faith. I have a right to listen to the warning signals triggered by my time-tested faith. And I have a right to evaluate this upstart contention with my time-tested faith serving at least as a preliminary framework. If this upstart proves itself worthy of upsetting my faith in the end, so be it, but it certainly does not deserve to be accorded the status of prima facie validity upon first meeting! It's like
tennis a chess tournament: the no. 1 seed meets the lowest ranked player at the beginning of the tournament and people have a right to place their bets on the higher ranked player. When they do that they're not preventing the other player from playing; they're not claiming game over even before it's started. The game goes on, but the point is people have a right to place their bets in the way above-mentioned and if the result of the game goes their way the more you can't blame them!
Back to the Da Vinci Code. We've got a historically based religion like Christianity that has stood the test of time and here comes the Da Vinci Code saying, "Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, etc." We place our bets on the no. 1 seed but that doesn't mean we're claiming "game over" before it has even started. We allow the game to go on; we do the research, and then we find out we're right and Dan Brown's wrong! Which is not surprising at all. At any rate, at the end of the day the historical and theological distortions of the Da Vinci Code are there for all to see. For a list of resources on the subject, see my previous post here.
I was interviewed on TV a couple of hours ago on the Death Penalty and the Da Vinci Code. I did quite well, I think, on the the Death Penalty issue but I was on the defensive on the Da Vinci Code. The host threw a number of unexpected punches and I sometimes had to duck, but sometimes the punches hit their mark and I appeared at times disoriented and groggy. What happened was we didn't get to discuss the Da Vinci Code that much. The host steered the interview to the issue of whether I would encourage or discourage people from seeing the movie. I said there were a number of options and that Christians sincerely differ on what to do. Personally I was inclined towards discouraging people from seeing the movie but I clarified that the best I could do was probably inform people that the movie was about lies and distortions about the Christian faith, show them the evidence for that, and leave it to them to make up their minds to see the movie or not. I said my approach was that of persuasion not coercion. I'm not trying to prevent anyone, but I think I have the right to inform people of what they're in for. The host then questioned the attitude of most defenders of the faith (which means me, in the immediate context!) of closing their minds immediately to anything new that comes up which threatens the established faith – the attitude, he said, which immediately looks for flaws instead of being open to the possibility that we're dealing with something that's true. I wasn't prepared for that turn of events. I thought the interview would be about discussing what the Da Vinci Code was all about and not about so-called attitudes of religious defenders. Anyway, I explained that I wasn't against people making up their own minds, their right to weigh evidence for themselves, but we do have credible "fore-warnings" available to us. We already know what the movie will be about, and we can already make decisions based on that knowledge. Besides, I did read up and study the matter based on available resources, and the historical distortions were just there. It's not that I was intent on finding them beforehand, they're there because Dan Brown put them there and not I. And these historical distortions are significant and crucial and we have a right, as people of faith, to respond to them and tell people about them.
I wrapped up, during the time given me for my final say, in this way: this looks like a clash between intellectual liberty and the pre-commitments of faith. But no one's absolutely neutral; we all have our presuppositions. Nevertheless many of us didn't arrive at our faith lightly: we've done the hard work of studying what our faith is all about. And it's a legitimate framework to use in evaluating issues like this. It's not about being close-minded at all, it's not about dismissing and condemning something beforehand. It's about already having a fund of hard-earned knowledge and background, with which to evaluate something like the Da Vinci Code. And we don't skip the hard work of fairly evaluating the other side according to its merits. That, however, does not require that you give up what you already know beforehand, like make your mind a blank slate, before you can engage in the process of evaluation in a fair and legitimate manner.
My wife thinks I was too meek. Over-all she felt I did OK, but she thought I sounded unconvincing at times. Maybe that's because I couldn't make up my mind about whether we should watch the movie or not. But I felt the question re: close-mindedness was a tough one. I do think I'm open-minded but I do have faith commitments which are precious and true and act as sensors to warn me that incoming information is suspect. Is it illegitimate to have these faith-commitments? Do you have to temporarily jettison your faith commitments in order to fairly evaluate an opposing view if you want to be entitled to being called fair and open-minded? I guess I already know the answer to my own questions, but I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.