Praise, Explanation & Criticism
Only One Way Left (The Iona Community: 1956), p. 38.
The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.
James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press: April 2010), 368 pages.
The call to make the world a better place is inherent in the Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers persuasive — and provocative — answers to these questions. Hunter begins with a penetrating appraisal of the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christians eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. Hunter offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles W. Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. Hunter argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls "faithful presence" — an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of "faithful presence." Such practices will be more fruitful, Hunter argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be. Written with keen insight, deep faith, and profound historical grasp, To Change the World will forever change the way Christians view and talk about their role in the modern world. ~ Product Description
"How I Believe in God" at the Chicago Sun-Times (April 17, 2009).
When I was in first or second grade and had just been introduced by the nuns to the concept of a limitless God, I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don't know the answer to the first one. ... I no longer lost any sleep over the questions of God and infinity. I understood they could have no answers. At some point the reality of God was no longer present in my mind. I believed in the basic Church teachings because I thought they were correct, not because God wanted me to. In my mind, in the way I interpret them, I still live by them today. Not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles. For example, in the matter of abortion, I am pro-choice, but my personal choice would be to have nothing to do with an abortion, certainly not of a child of my own. I believe in free will, and believe I have no right to tell anyone else what to do. Popes come and go, and John XXIII has been the only one I felt affection for. Their dictums strike me as lacking in the ability to surprise. They have been leading a holding action for a millenium. ¶ Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word. When people rail against "secular humanism," I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them. Over the high school years, my belief in the likelihood of a God continued to lessen. I kept this to myself. ... ¶ Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don't. I avoid that because I don't want to provide a category for people to apply to me.
"The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Sixteen Years Later" at Parchment and Pen (January 5, 2010).
What are “people crying out for”? I don’t think it is too difficult to answer. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, used to end each class with this admonition: “Men, give them something to believe.” That is what people are crying out for: Something to believe. Truth. Not only this, but an understanding of the truth that they have ownership in. It is a stimulation of their minds, so that their hearts can be satisfied. It is teaching. Real teaching. Biblical teaching. Theologically and historically sound teaching. Teaching that relieves the scandal of their own minds which, in most cases I am afraid to say, have never really had a chance to believe. Like really believe. Not simply because of emotional persuasion. Not simply because they have a deep down feeling. Not because their parents or pastor believe this or that. But because they have seen for themselves, and now they know.
Henry Drummond (James Pott & Co.: 1890), 69 pages. »
In this timeless speech, Henry Drummond argues that the greatest thing, the summum bonum, is love. But this love is not here just a cliché, the love of pop songs and romantic comedies. As Drummond puts it: "Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness; sincerity — these make up the supreme gift... You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity." I have always appreciated this fact, that the biblical portrait of love is not merely a beautiful but empty concept, but rather a love with form and flesh. Drummond enumerates and expounds on the nature of biblical love, contrasting it with other goods, analyzing its aspects, and defending its primacy of place. ~ Afterall
Henry Drummond (1851-1897)
By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church — "I saw no Temple therein" — is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with a City — the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away — is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands — passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world's fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life. ~ Excerpt
"A More Perfect Union", delivered in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008.
Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
N.T. Wright (HarperOne: Feb 5, 2008), 352 pages.
Wright, one of the greatest, and certainly most prolific, Bible scholars in the world, will touch a nerve with this book. What happens when we die? How should we think about heaven, hell, purgatory and eternal life? Wright critiques the views of heaven that have become regnant in Western culture, especially the assumption of the continuance of the soul after death in a sort of blissful non-bodily existence. This is simply not Christian teaching, Wright insists. The New Testament's clear witness is to the resurrection of the body, not the migration of the soul. And not right away, but only when Jesus returns in judgment and glory. The "paradise," the experience of being "with Christ" spoken of occasionally in the scriptures, is a period of waiting for this return. But Christian teaching of life after death should really be an emphasis on "life after life after death"-the resurrection of the body, which is also the ground for all faithful political action, as the last part of this book argues. Wright's prose is as accessible as it is learned-an increasingly rare combination. No one can doubt his erudition or the greatness of the churchmanship of the Anglican Bishop of Durham. One wonders, however, at the regular citation of his own previous work. And no other scholar can get away so cleanly with continuing to propagate the "hellenization thesis," by which the early church is eventually polluted by contaminating Greek philosophical influence. ~ 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...
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."
B. Netanyahu (New York Review of Books: September 2001), 1424 pages.
The Spanish Inquisition was responsible for one of the fiercest repressions in human history. It fused the triple evil of a police state, a totalitarian ideology, and racial persecution. Its terrible reverberations have been felt in our own century, and are likely to be felt in the next. Yet for all its notoriety, its origins have never been fully explored or clearly understood before now. What caused this monstrous attack upon Spain's so-called "conversos" — the Christian descendants of the Jews who had been forced to convert during the anti-Semitic riots that swept across Spain at the end of the fourteenth century? Were the thousands of conversos who died at the hands of the Inquisition in fact secretly still Jews, only pretending to be good Christians, as the inquisition charged and as most scholars continue to believe? In this magnum opus, B. Netanyahu shows us that this claim is groundless. After a lifetime of research in long-unexamined Spanish sources, he reveals that at the time of the Inquisition, almost all conversos were in fact full-fledged Christians, and that the few Judaizers among them had dwindled into insignificance. The vast machinery of the Inquisition could not have been founded to kill a dying movement. What, then, was its purpose? The Origins of the Inquisition answers this question definitively. By examining Spanish anti-Semitism from its origins, Professor Netanyahu demonstrates that the brutal anti-converso movement that led to the Inquisition was the same one responsible for the massacre of Jews in Spain in 1391 and the ensuing mass conversion of Spanish Jews (at sword-point) to Christianity. The rapid rise of the conversos to high royal offices (higher, even, than those attained by their Jewish forefathers) made them the target of the same forces that had persecuted the Jews. It was to remove the conversos from their influential positions, and to prevent their intermarriage with the Spanish people, that they were accused of being secret Judaizers and members of a "corrupt" race that would "pollute" the Spanish blood. This was the first time that extreme anti-Semitism was wedded to a theory of race — a union that would dramatically affect the course of modern history. Steering the reader through the labyrinthine politics of Church and State in fifteenth-century Spain, Professor Netanyahu develops his startling thesis within the context of a careful consideration of Spanish culture and society. The conversos, like their Jewish ancestors, were intimately linked with the Spanish monarchy, and, unlike the Jews, also with the Papacy, but by the end of the fifteenth century, both Church and State left their erstwhile allies to the mercy of the Inquisition. As Professor Netanyahu brilliantly shows, the Spanish sovereigns let the coversos be attacked in order to distract the outraged city masses and their leaders from turning against the royal establishment itself. "The Origins of the Inquisition" is a seminal work that will alter our understanding of the Spanish Inquisition and its place in the history of anti-Semitism, of Spain, and of Europe. Its is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand one of history's darkest movements, the terrible shadow of which persists to this very day. ~ Midwest Book Review
"The Public Square", First Things, (May 2001)
Priests and academics born into Catholicism tend to know all the inside stories, the flaws and foibles and legendary figures of the Church, and can regale one another with the rich lore of its characters and scandals. It is one big extended family. In that company, status is often contingent upon demonstrating that one has transcended the "Catholic ghetto." That explains, at least in large part, why dissent from official teaching carries the panache of being sophisticated. The disposition is: "Yes, I am a Catholic (or a priest, or a theologian), but I think for myself." The remarkably improbable assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.
B. Netanyahu (Cornell University Press: January 1998), 272 pages.
One of the world's foremost scholars in the fields of Spanish and Jewish medieval history, B. Netanyahu revolutionized accepted belief concerning the causes of the Spanish Inquisition in his magisterial volume of 1995, The Origins of the Inquisition. Locating that origin not in the supposed persistence of Judaism among the New Christians but in a concession the kings were forced to make to powerfully anti-Jewish popular sentiment, he radically altered the whole landscape of Hispano-Jewish studies. Toward the Inquisition is another major contribution to this historiographic revolution. Made up of seven of Netanyahu's essays, published over the last two decades and collected here for the first time, it further illuminates Jewish and Marrano history from the mid-fourteenth century to the end of the fifteenth century. The essays throw light on such long-obscured phenomena as the rise of the Nazi-like theory of race which harassed the conversos for three full centuries, or the abandonment of Judaism by most conversos decades before the Inquisition was established. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland (Navpress: Jul 1, 1997) 249 pages.
Prepare Your Mind For Action. The mind plays an important role in Christianity. Unfortunately, many of us leave our minds behind when it comes to our faith. In Love Your God with All Your Mind, J. P. Moreland presents a compelling case for the role of the mind in spiritual transformation. He challenges us to develop a Christian mind and to use our intellect to further God's kingdom through evangelism, apologetics, worship, and vocation. "This exploration into the mind of evangelical Christianity is one of the most courageous books of our time. In language that is thoroughly erudite but compassionate, theological but practical, and scriptural but entirely relevant to today, the author presents the deeper significance of Paul's plea to the Christians at Phillipi: 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. '". ~ From the Publisher
G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius: Jul 1, 1995)
If this is, as Chesterton called it, a "slovenly autobiography," then we need more slobs in the world. This quirky, slender book describes how Chesterton came to view orthodox Catholic Christianity as the way to satisfy his personal emotional needs in a way that would also allow him to live happily in society. Chesterton argues that people in western society need a life of "practical romance, the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome." Drawing on such figures as Fra Angelico, George Bernard Shaw, and St. Paul to make his points, Chesterton argues that submission to ecclesiastical authority is the way to achieve a good and balanced life. The whole book is written in a style that is as majestic and down-to-earth as C.S. Lewis at his best. The final chapter, called "Authority and the Adventurer," is especially persuasive. It's hard to imagine a reader who will not close the book believing, at least for the moment, that the Church will make you free. ~ Michael Joseph Gross
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993), 27.
Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace. As Hans Kung say, "it deserves neither God's mercy nor men's trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God's kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted."
Marlene Winell on Original Sin said...
Leaving the Fold (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 1993), p. 1.
In conservative Christianity you are told you are unacceptable. You are judged with regard to your relationship to God. Thus you can only be loved positionally, not essentially. And, contrary to any assumed ideal of Christian love, you cannot love others for their essence either. This is the horrible cost of the doctrine of original sin.
The Ragamuffin Gospel, (Questar Publishers, 1993), 72.
Simple, my dear fellow! Your trouble is you have your halo on too tight. All we need to do is to loosen it a bit. The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with. The tilted halo of the saved sinner is worn loosely and with easy grace. We have discovered that the cross accomplished far more than revealing the love of God.
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993), 27.
Often hobbling through our church doors on Sunday morning comes grace on crutches — sinners still unable to throw away their false supports and stand upright in the freedom of the children of God. Yet, their mere presence in the church on Sunday morning is a flickering candle representing a desire to maintain contact with God. To douse the flame is to plunge them into a world of spiritual darkness.
"A Debate on the Existence of God" (1948) in Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986), p. 208.
The Ages of Faith, which are praised by our neo-scholastics, were the time when the clergy had things all their own way. Daily life was full of miracles wrought by saints and wizardry perpetrated by devils and necromancers. Many thousands of witches were burnt at the stake. Men's sins were punished by pestilence and famine, by earthquake, flood, and fire. And yet, strange to say, they were even more sinful than they are now-a-days.