Beliefs, Practices, History
"Bill Maher vs. the 'talking snake'", by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.com (October 2, 2008).
What if there was a religion, asks comedian Bill Maher, in which an all-powerful god from outer space decided to send his unborn son on a suicide mission to planet Earth? So this space-god impregnates a human female in some mystical, not-quite-physical fashion, and she gives birth to a baby who is both a human being and a divine incarnation, simultaneously the space god's spawn and the space god himself. (Oh, space god also has a third manifestation, one that's totally invisible.) So space-god junior is born on Earth destined to be killed, even though he's a space god and therefore immortal. As you've picked up by now, the religion Maher is describing is not imaginary, and in various forms and guises is professed by most people in the United States, including every president we've ever had or are likely to have in the foreseeable future... In the acerbic late-night talk-show host's new movie "Religulous," made with "Borat" director Larry Charles, Maher keeps bludgeoning you with stories like these to make the point that the central story behind mainstream Christianity, when considered at face value and taken literally, sounds every bit as loony as the oft-derided tenets of Mormonism or Scientology.
Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson (Canon Press: Sep 2, 2008), 72 pages.
This book reproduces an insightful and spirited recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson over what Dostoevsky called the Eternal Questions: What is the real nature of the universe in which we find ourselves? What are the ultimate bases of reason and ethics? Are there any ultimate sanctions governing human behavior? Though Hitchens is always worth reading for his quick wit and frequently surprising arguments, unfortunately in this debate he does not come off at his best. While graciously conceding that Hitchens has clean hands, Wilson wielding a very fine knife shows that Hitchens, sad to say, doesn't have any hands to begin with. Hitchens is of the view that the universe is the accidental consequence of swirling particles, claiming that his reason has led him to this conclusion. Wilson, in the style of C.S.Lewis, points out that if the world outside Hitchen's head is given over wholly to such irrational chemical processes, the world inside Hitchens' head can be no differently composed, and that what Hitchens refers to as "rational argument" has been "arbitrarily dubbed" so. ~ Stanley H. Nemeth
Keith Ward (Oneworld Publications: 2008), 195 pages.
Although Christianity is the world's largest religion, with its numerous denominations, and differing opinions on many central tenets, it can be a difficult faith to understand. In this unique and authoritative introduction, renowned theologian Keith Ward examines differing Christian perspectives on themes ranging from original sin to eternal life, and reveals a wonderfully multifaceted tradition united in a common belief, whose impact has been felt in the most remote areas of the planet. ~ Product Description • "Professor Ward of Oxford University has done a remarkable job of showing the variety of Christian beliefs in relation to its main doctrines such as incarnation, salvation etc. in a very clear, objective and readable way. I highly recommend it as possibly the best guide to the subject." ~ An Amazon.com Customer
Timothy Keller (Dutton: Feb 14, 2008), 293 pages.
In this apologia for Christian faith, Keller mines material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. Written for skeptics and the believers who love them, the book draws on the author's encounters as founding pastor of New York's booming Redeemer Presbyterian Church. One of Keller's most provocative arguments is that all doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. Drawing on sources as diverse as 19th-century author Robert Louis Stevenson and contemporary New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, Keller attempts to deconstruct everyone he finds in his way, from the evolutionary psychologist Richard Dawkins to popular author Dan Brown. The first, shorter part of the book looks at popular arguments against God's existence, while the second builds on general arguments for God to culminate in a sharp focus on the redemptive work of God in Christ. Keller's condensed summaries of arguments for and against theism make the scope of the book overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, it should serve both as testimony to the author's encyclopedic learning and as a compelling overview of the current debate on faith for those who doubt and for those who want to re-evaluate what they believe, and why. ~ Publishers Weekly
Dinesh D'Souza (Regnery Publishing : October 16, 2007), 348 pages.
Is Christianity obsolete? Can an intelligent, educated person really believe the Bible? Or do the atheists have it right? Has Christianity been disproven by science, debunked as a force for good, and discredited as a guide to morality? Bestselling author Dinesh D'Souza (What's So Great About America) looks at Christianity with a questioning eye, but treats atheists with equal skepticism. The result is a book that will challenge the assumptions of both believers and doubters and affirm that there really is, indeed, something great about Christianity. Provocative, enlightening, a twenty-first-century successor to C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity is the perfect book for the seeker, the skeptic, and the believer who wants to defend his faith. D'Souza argues...
Keith Ward (Oneworld Publications: May 2007), 231 pages.
Beginning with the original Gospel message, Ward charts six major changes in the history of Christianity, each of which illustrates that theology is a human, and mutable, endeavor. The Hellenistic re-statement of the Gospel in the early Church Councils altered the character of the original Christian faith, and, many would argue, for the better. From the medieval Latin elaboration of doctrines of sin and atonement, Heaven, Purgatory and Hell, to the Reformation proclamation of salvation by faith alone; from the German liberal attempt to recover the historical Jesus to the challenges of the cosmic evolutionary view of modern science, Ward draws the conclusion that there is no one essence of faith. In fact, the very quest for truth requires change-and openness to it is openness to a fuller revelation of God. ~ Product Description
Rodney Stark (Random House : September 26, 2006), 304 pages.
It is a commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this stimulating and provocative study, Stark (The Rise of Christianity) demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism. Stark contends that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, evincing faith in progress and in its followers' abilities to understand God over time. Such a future-based rational theology has encouraged the development of technical and organizational advances, such as the monastic estates and universities of the Middle Ages. Stark contends that these developments transformed medieval political philosophy so that democracy developed and thrived in those states, such as northern Italy, that lacked despots and encouraged moral equality. Stark concludes by maintaining that Christianity continues to spread in places like Africa, China and Latin America because of its faith in progress, its rational theology and its emphasis on moral equality. While some historians are likely to question Stark's conclusions, his deftly researched study will force them to imagine a new explanation for the rise of capitalism in Western society. ~ Publishers Weekly
N.T. Wright (HarperSanFrancisco: Mar. 14, 2006), 256 pages.
Why do we expect justice? Why do we crave spirituality? Why are we attracted to beauty? Why are relationships often so painful? And how will the world be made right? These are not simply perennial questions all generations must struggle with, but, according to N. T. Wright, are the very echoes of a voice we dimly perceive but deeply long to hear. In fact, these questions take us to the heart of who God is and what He wants from us. For two thousand years, Christianity has claimed to solve these mysteries, and this renowned biblical scholar and Anglican bishop shows that it still can today. Not since C. S. Lewis's classic summary of the faith, Mere Christianity, has such a wise and thorough scholar taken the time to explain to anyone who wants to know what Christianity really is and how it is practiced. Wright makes the case for Christian faith from the ground up, assuming that the reader has no knowledge of (and perhaps even some aversion to) religion in general and Christianity in particular. Simply Christian walks the reader through the Christian faith step by step and question by question. With simple yet exciting and accessible prose, Wright challenges skeptics by offering explanations for even the toughest doubt-filled dilemmas, leaving believers with a reason for renewed faith. For anyone who wants to travel beyond the controversies that can obscure what the Christian faith really stands for, this simple book is the perfect vehicle for that journey. ~ Product Description
Jonathan Hill (InterVarsity Press : August 20, 2005), 192 pages.
What has Christianity ever done for us? What value is there in seeking to preserve its influence today? In this book, Jonathan Hill answers these questions with some questions of his own. For instance, why do we seal wine bottles with cork? Where did musical notation come from? How did universities get their start? And why was the world's first fully literate society not in Europe, Asia or North America? As Hill tells the story of the centuries-long entanglement between Christianity and Western culture, he shows the profound influence that Christianity has had--from what we drink to how we speak, from how we write to how we mark the seasons. Employing a rich, narrative style packed with events and people and illustrated throughout in full color, he describes the place of Christianity both in history and in the present day. What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? is an enlightening and often humorous tour of culture and thought, the arts, the landscape, education, society, spirituality and ethics, and social justice. Here is a rich, entertaining and informative read. ~ Book Description
Alvin J. Schmidt (Zondervan : December 1, 2004), 448 pages.
Western civilization is becoming increasingly pluralistic, secularized, and biblically illiterate. Many people today have little sense of how their lives have benefited from Christianity's influence, often viewing the church with hostility or resentment. How Christianity Changed the World is a topically arranged Christian history for Christians and non-Christians. Grounded in solid research and written in a popular style, this book is both a helpful apologetic tool in talking with unbelievers and a source of evidence for why Christianity deserves credit for many of the humane, social, scientific, and cultural advances in the Western world in the last two thousand years. Photographs, timelines, and charts enhance each chapter. This edition features questions for reflection and discussion for each chapter. ~ From the Back Cover
John Horner on the Church said...
No, to find real blasphemy, we have to look to ourselves and our forebears — those of us who have taken upon ourselves the name of Christ, and then, in the name of Christ, perform acts that make him weep. When our Christian forbears used the name of Christ to justify slavery, used the name of Christ to justify the history of anti-semitism and the long line of pogroms. When we used the name of Christ as the reason for apartheid and Jim Crow. When we use the name of Christ to kill the Irish Catholic or the Irish Protestant. Or the Serb or the Croatian or the Bosnian. When we use the name of Jesus as the banner under which we picket the funeral of President Clinton's mother, or someone who has died of AIDS. When we get upset because the homeless are littering the sidewalk that leads to our church. When we expend more political effort toward getting a cut in our taxes than we do in making sure that the children of our country have decent food and shelter, and do it in the name of Christianity. When we do these things — that's when we should raise the cry of "Blasphemy."
Christianity on Trial (Encounter Books: July 2001)
It is easy for those who do not live under a totalitarian regime to expect heroism from those who do, but it is an expectation that will often be disappointed... it should be less surprising that the mass of Christians were silent than that some believed strongly enough to pay for their faith with their lives.
First Things 107 (November 2000): 69-88.
Admittedly, it is not so attractive when the apparent modesty disguises a self-denigration that is almost tantamount to self-hatred, as is sometimes evident in current forms of "multiculturalism." Among Christians committed to ecumenism there is a type that is aptly described as an ecumaniac. An ecumaniac is defined as someone who loves every church but his own. So it is that multiculturalists are forever discovering superiorities in other cultures, oblivious to the fact that, in the larger human story, Western culture is singular in its eagerness to praise and learn from other cultures. One is never more distinctively Western than when criticizing what is distinctively Western. The same holds for being American. In our multiculturalism we display our superiority by demonstrating our ability to see through what others — mistakenly, we say — admire in our culture. So maybe this new and self-denigrating way of telling the American story is not so modest after all.
Alvin Plantinga on Theology said...
Warranted Christian Belief, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), vii.
Classical Christian belief includes, in the first place, the belief that there is such a person as God. God is That person, that is, a being with intellect and will. A person has (or can have) knowledge and belief, but also affections, loves, and hates; a person, furthermore, also has or can have intentions, and can act so as to fulfill them. God has all of these qualities and has some (knowledge, power, and love, for example) to the maximal degree. God is thus all-knowing and all-powerful; he is also perfectly good and wholly loving. Still further, he has created the universe and constantly upholds and providentially guides it. This is the theistic component of Christian belief. But there is also the uniquely Christian component: that we human beings are somehow mired in rebellion and sin, that we consequently require deliverance and salvation, and that God has arranged for that deliverance through the sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was both a man and also the second member of the Trinity, the uniquely divine son of God.
Love God With All Your Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), p. 111.
Unfortunately, I have seen too many Christian thinkers who have a certain texture or posture in life that gives the impression that they are far more concerned with assuring their academic colleagues that they are not ignorant fundamentalists than they are with pleasing God and serving His people. Such thinkers often give up too much intellectual real estate far too readily to secular or other perspectives inimical to the Christian faith. This is why many average Christian folk are suspicious of the mind today. All too often, they have seen intellectual growth in Christian academics lead to a cynical posture unfaithful to the spirit of the Christian way. Fidelity to God and His cause is the core commitment of a growing Christian mind.
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 61.
Personally I'm not sure just who or what Christ is. I still pray to him in a pinch, but I talk to myself in a pinch too — and I'm getting less and less sure there's a difference. I used to wish somebody would just tell me what to think about Him. Then along came Elder Babcock, telling and telling, acting like Christ was running for President of the World, and he was His campaign manager, and whoever didn't get out and vote for the lord at the polls we call churches by casting the votes we call tithes and offerings into the ballot boxes we call offering plates was a wretched turd of a sinner voting for Satan by default. Mama tried to clear up all the confusion by saying that Christ is exactly what the Bible says He is. But what does the Bible say He is? On one page He's a Word, on the next a bridegroom, then He's a boy, then a scapegoat, then a thief in the night; read on and he's the messiah, then oops, he's a rabbi, and then a fraction — a third of a Trinity — then a fisherman, then a broken loaf of bread. I guess even God, when He's human, has trouble deciding just what He is.
David James Duncan on the Church said...
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 18.
Christ founded a new church! You'd know that if you ever opened a Bible! And that new church — "And that new church," Papa cut in, his face suddenly savage, "is two thousand years old now, and every bit as senile and mean-spirited as the one that killed Him!" "How dare you!" Mamma hissed. "How dare you say such a thing in front of these children!" "How dare you throw a fit in the name of God over one damned beer!" "I've seen the hell one beer can lead to!" Mama cried. "And I've seen the hell your friendly preacher calls salvation!" Papa roared. "'Come unto me all ye Tea Totalin' prudes, and if your husband watches baseball or sips a beer with a neighbor on my Sabbath pay day then damn him to hell and whip his kids off to Spokane!"
David James Duncan on the Church said...
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 15.
And today is Sabbath. And I'm not sick. And the sun is already so hot outside that everything's all bleached and wobbly-looking, as if the whole world was just an overexposed home movie God was showing Jesus up on their living room wall. And whenever it's really hot Elder Babcock's sermon — even if it starts out being abut some nice quiet thing like the poor or meek or weak — will sooner or later twist like a snake with its head run over to the unquiet subject of heaven and hell, and who all is going to which, and how long you'll have to stay, and what all will happen to you when you get there, and he goes on so loud and long and the air gets so used up and awful that bit by bit you lose track of any difference between his heaven and his hell and would gladly pick either over church. Then the sermon ends, and the long prayer after it, and it comes time to belt out the big hosanna that means it's almost time to go home. Except that last hymn always has about fourteen verses. And when you stand up to sing it you discover your blood has got stuck down in your feet. And all through the sermon every grownup in the place has had their mouth clamped shut trying not to yawn, so when the glad voices suddenly upraised this tidal wave of pent-up halitosis comes swashing out of them and up your nose and all through the parts of your head where the blood that's in you feet should have been, till your brain feels like it's going to barf.