ReflectionsMerriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word Reflections in multiple ways. Two are as follows: “a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation; consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose.” Throughout the human experience we have ample opportunities to reflect on ideas, major life transitions and big decisions, among many other things. Those who are bibliophiles, like us, have enjoyed the pleasure of finding wonderful truth in reading and being able to reflect on it for weeks, months, and even years after it. Some texts cause us joy, while others lead us to conviction—but all of the good lead us to reflection.
How should the Church address social issues today? Writing in the 1960’s, Carl F. H. Henry provides us with a framework to think through this essential question. His words on why the Church should address rulers and the public on the theme of proper social principles remain applicable to this day:
Even though the Church is not arbitrarily to impose a theology of society, forcing its ideals upon the world, it needs to do more than merely criticize the political climate, no matter how justifiable and effective such censure may sometimes be. Is there really any excuse for not suggesting constructive alternatives to the unpromising attempts to gain political order in an atmosphere of spiritual indifference?
If the Church fails to apply the central truths of the Christian religion to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly.
 Carl F. H. Henry, Aspects of Christian Social Ethics (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1964) 82.
Consider what fans and critics alike have said about Antonin Scalia:
“He was a towering figure who will be remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of the Supreme Court and a scholar who deeply influenced our legal culture” (Samuel Alito, Supreme Court Justice).[i]
“No one had more influence on the direction of a Supreme Court, maybe other than Chief Justice Marshall, than Justice Scalia had” (Randy Barnett).[ii]
“We were good friends. Like the rest of my colleagues, I shall miss him enormously. I shall miss his love of life, his infectious humor, his memorable phrases, his definite opinions, and his dedication to the Court and to the law” (Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court Justice).[iii]
“For in all cases great and small, what distinguished Justice Scalia — what made him a truly great judge — was neither his impressive intellect nor his incisive writing, exceptional as those were. His most admirable feature was his love for the law as law. It was that reverence for law — for its intricacies, its traditions, and its restraints — that made Justice Scalia remarkable, not as an aspiring philosopher-king but as a wise judge content to do his part in maintaining the rule of law. He was faithful in the small things, and thus too in the great. He will be missed” (John F. Duffy).[iv]
“Nino Scalia will go down in history as one of the most transformational Supreme Court Justices of our nation” (Elena Kagan, Supreme Court Justice).[v]
“He had the gift of vision, and the gift of words to explain it. Witnessing Scalia edit a draft was like seeing Michelangelo paint a house or Mozart compose a class ditty. He brought truth and beauty to the mundane. We shall not soon see his equal” (Christopher Landau).[vi]
“Antonin Scalia was a hero to me, as he was to thousands, perhaps millions of conservative Americans. He was brilliant. He was morally engaged. His prose sparkled. He was the great champion of the Right, and he could not be silenced or voted out, no matter how much the press despised him” (Elliot Milco).[vii]
“Indeed, Antonin Scalia is almost surely the most influential justice to sit on the Supreme Court in many decades. The loss of his influence, as well as his crucial vote, is monumental” (Albert Mohler).[viii]
“Whether or not you agreed with the man, there is no question that Justice Antonin Scalia changed the United States Supreme Court” (Bruce Allen Murphy).[ix]
“Whether or not one always (or even often) agreed with him, Antonin Scalia was the Colossus of the Constitution” (Michael Stokes Paulsen).[x]
“He was, indisputably, the greatest justice of the past fifty years” (Michael Stokes Paulsen).[xi]
“I have little doubt that Scalia will be remembered as one of the truly great justices on the United States Supreme Court. . . . [He was] “a titan of constitutional law, a deeply principled, sincerely dedicated man who devoted his life to the court he loved” (Mark Joseph Stern).[xii]
“Justice Scalia was a good man; a wonderful husband who loved his wife and his family; a man of strong faith; a towering intellect; a legal giant; and a dear, dear friend” (Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice).[xiii]
[i] Samuel Alito; quoted in “Supreme Court Justices Weigh in on Antonin Scalia’s Death,” USA Today, February 15, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/02/14/statements-supreme-court-death-justice-scalia/80375976/.
[ii] Randy Barnett; quoted in “Remembering Justice Scalia with Randy Barnett,” The Federalist, February 22, 2016, April 8, 2016, http://thefederalist.com/2016/02/22/remembering-justice-scalia-with-randy-barnett/.
[iii] Stephen Breyer; quoted in “Antonin Scalia—A Justice in Full.”
[iv] John F. Duffy; quoted in “Antonin Scalia—A Justice in Full.”
[v] Elena Kagan; quoted in “Supreme Court Justices Weigh in on Antonin Scalia’s Death.”
[vi] Christopher Landau; quoted in “Antonin Scalia—A Justice in Full.”
[vii] Elliot Milco, “Our Mighty Rearguard,” First Things, February 14, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/02/our-mighty-rearguard.
[viii] Albert Mohler, “A Giant has Fallen — The Death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the Future of Constitutional Government,” February 14, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/02/14/a-giant-has-fallen-the-death-of-justice-antonin-scalia-and-the-future-of-constitutional-government/.
[ix] Bruce Allen Murphy, “Justice Antonin Scalia and the ‘Dead’ Constitution,” The New York Times, February 14, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/15/opinion/justice-antonin-scalia-and-the-dead-constitution.html?_r=1.
[x] Michael Stokes Paulsen, “Scalia at St. Thomas: Closing Arguments,” Public Discourse, February 18, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/02/16501/?utm_source=The+Witherspoon+Institute&utm_campaign=89f2f182c7-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_15ce6af37b-89f2f182c7-84171605.
[xi] Michael Stokes Paulsen, “The Supreme Greatness of Justice Antonin Scalia,” Public Discourse, March 15, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/03/16612/.
[xii] Mark Joseph Stern, “Antonin Scalia Will Be Remembered as One of the Greats,” Slate, February 13, 2016, accessed April 5, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2016/02/antonin_scalia_was_a_truly_great_supreme_court_justice.html.
[xiii] Clarence Thomas; quoted in “Supreme Court Justices Weigh in on Antonin Scalia’s Death.”
How do we make sense out of suffering? The first step is to realize that suffering is a result of human sin and a consequence of the fall of Adam. Another necessary notion to make sense out of suffering is that suffering may have redemptive purposes or good ends. This should not be confused with saying that suffering is good in and of itself. In other words, suffering is not good, but suffering may have good consequences. C.S. Lewis speaks to this in explaining that suffering is “God’s megaphone,” by which he means to call us back to the Creator.
Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator – to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy. Lest we should think this is a hardship, this kind of good begins on a level far above the creatures, for God Himself, as Son, from all eternity renders back to God as Father by filial obedience the being which the Father by paternal love eternally generates in the Son. This is the pattern which man was made to imitate – and wherever the will conferred by the Creator is thus perfectly offered back in the delighted and delighting obedience by the creature there, most undoubtedly, is Heaven, and there the Holy Ghost proceeds. In the world as we know it, the problem is how to recover self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as John Henry Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1947), 78-79.
Sometimes conventional wisdom, conventional as it may be, isn’t so wise after all.
It was thought for many years that one of the reasons why parents should limit or altogether restrict their children’s exposure to video games or films with violence is because they would encourage and foster aggressive behavior. While this no doubt has happened, it isn’t so much due to the “monkey-see, monkey-do” syndrome. It is due to the subtleties of being desensitized to violence, which gradually makes certain behaviors seemingly less offensive.
Brian Housman explains in his Tech Savvy Parenting,
The most startling effect that violent games have on kids was not increased aggression but rather a decrease in moral sensitivity. Basically, the longer a child plays violent games, the more desensitized he becomes to real life violence and to the hardships of others. (36).
I’d encourage parents to take a look at Housman’s Tech Savvy Parenting: Navigating Your Child’s Digital Life (Randall House, 2014).
Religion, law and morality interact with each other in ways that affect the church and culture. In scripture there are types of laws with each having their own purpose. What would happen though if ethics (morality) was no more than just personal choice and private sentiment? Edmund Burke (1729-1797), a leader in Great Britain during the time of the Revolutionary War, responds to this question:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
1791, in “A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly.” Theodore Roosevelt, “Fifth Annual Message to Congress,” December 5, 1905. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 20 vols. (New York: Bureau of National Literature, Inc., prepared under the direction of the Joint Committee on Printing, of the House and Senate, pursuant to an Act of the Fifty-Second Congress of the United States, 1893, 1923), Vol. XIV, p. 6986.
I’ve often been intrigued by the range of definitions that are suggested for the word “theology.” I recently came across one by Thomas Oden in his memoir which I think does a nice job of combining the academic, teleological, and doxological aspects of theology:
“Theology is the study of God. The study of God is simply to be enjoyed for its own incomparable subject, the One most beautiful, most worthy to be praised. Life with God delights in its very acts of thinking, reading, praying and communing with that One most worthy to be beheld, pondered and studied, not for its written artifacts or social consequences but for joy in its subject.”
A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (IVP Academic, 2014), 147.
In his 1611 work A Short and Plaine Proofe, Thomas Helwys argued against unconditional election and limited atonement. Helwys was convinced that these doctrines were not only unbiblical, but actually implicated God in man’s sin. What follows is a quite intriguing portion of his argument:
Yet those of this opinion that hold God has decreed some to reprobation say he would not have all, but some to repent. If they would speak plainly and not halt between opinions, they must say that God would have some be unbelievers, and wicked, and disobedient. That is the highest blasphemy. It is above “the wickedness of the fool that says there is no God.” It is to say there is a wicked God that has decreed wickedness.
Furthermore, this opinion does exceedingly diminish and lessen that great work of grace wrought by Christ’s redemption. It makes Christ a particular, private redeemer for some private men. This highly dishonors Christ in that his great sufferings are not accomplished and are not sufficient to take away Adam’s sin and so he has not utterly broken, but only bruised the serpent’s head. This makes Adam’s sin abound above the grace of God by Christ, overthrowing the word of God (Romans 5.20). “Where sin abounded grace abounded much more,” speaking of Adam’s sin.
Thomas Helwys, A Short and Plaine Proofe by the Word and Works of God that God’s Decree is Not the Cause of Any of Man’s Sin or Condemnation in Joe Early, Jr., ed., The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2009), 86.
Twilight of a Great Civilization is a collection of essays put together due to the common theme that each one embraces. In one of the essays, We Are Warriors With A Mission In The World, Carl F.H. Henry is asking evangelicals to take seriously the mission of cultural engagement for the sake of Christ.
“Christianity is qualitatively different or it has nothing distinctive to offer the world…Christian duty requires courageous participation at the frontiers of public concern – education, mass media, politics, law, literature and the arts, labor and economics, and the whole realm of cultural pursuits. We need to do more than to sponsor a Christian subculture. We need Christian counterculture that sets itself alongside the secular rivals and publishes openly the difference that belief in God and His Christ makes in the arenas of thought and action. We need Christian countermoves that commend new climate, countermoves that penetrate the public realm…We must strive to reclaim this cosmos for its rightful owner, God, who has title to the cattle on a thousand hills, and for Christ who says to the lost multitudes, “I made you; I died for you; I ransomed you.”
Carl F.H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1988), 44.
In his book on evangelism, Will Metzger discusses Dorothy Sayer’s thoughts on theology. At length, he quotes Todd Best’s summary:
For Sayers, theology is what shapes or ought to shape everything that Christians think about and do, an it also ought to speak meaningfully to the culture in addressing broadly human questions… Christian doctrine, the teaching of historically orthodox Christianity,… is not, as many have said, restrictive and narrowing. Rather, it is expansive and opens us up to imaginatively exploring the vast implication that a particular doctrine might do for our toughest problems…
Thus Sayer’s legacy could be said to be that she shows us how to breathe life into doctrines; and she demonstrates that they are not, in fact, boring, but rather they are the most dramatic ideas when couple with our creative imagination rooted in genuine human experience.
Todd Best as cited in Tell the Truth by Will Metzger, pg. 25.
If there is one member of the triune Godhead that Protestants tend to know the least about, it is the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther, the central figure who gave impetus to the Protestant Reformation, discussed the Holy Spirit by emphasizing His role as an Intercessor in these ways:
“The Holy Ghost has two offices. First, He is a Spirit of grace, that makes God gracious unto us, and receives us as His acceptable children, for Christ’s sake. Secondly, He is a Spirit of prayer, that prays for us, and for the whole world, to the end that all evil may be turned from us, and that all good may happen to us. The Spirit of grace teaches people; the Spirit of prayer prays . . . For we must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; He works in the hearts of whom He will, and how He will, but never without the Word.”
Martin Luther, 1566
Jonathan Leeman recently wrote a terrific article for Canon & Culture, a project by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, discussing what would be lost if Christianity was removed from the public square:
Suppose then that all of my moral principles and I really did pack up our desk, put our files into a box, and let the security guard escort us out of the building? John Lennon said to imagine a world with no religion. Let’s just try imagining a public square with no Christianity.
For starters, I guess I would have to take any concept of innate human equality and dignity with me. You didn’t get that from the Greeks, Romans, or pagan barbarians. You got that from me. I taught you to treat people as ends, not means. It would make me sad to take it back, but you say you don’t want Christian morality, so…I would have to take back your ideas about inherent rights, too.
I’m not saying non-Christian Founders and others haven’t talked about rights for a long time. But lose the concept of a good, personal, and—you won’t like this word—righteous God who endows human creatures with these things called rights; lose the idea of a God whose law makes respecting rights right, and you really have no foundation for them. Rights would come home with me, I’m afraid.
You can read the whole article here: http://www.canonandculture.com/christianity-packs-its-office-and-leaves-the-building/
Here is a helpful reminder of one author’s definition of holiness:
“Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God…It is the habit of agreeing with God’s judgment—hating what He hates—loving what He loves—and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word…A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind toward God, a hearty desire to do His will—a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the world, and a love of all His ways.”
(John Ryle, 1879)
We are a people consumed with the idea that we have courageously exceeded our ancestors’ meager attempts at freedom, honesty, and authenticity. Richard Weaver critiques such notions in Ideas Have Consequences (1948):
Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality. It looks upon euphemisms and all the veils of decency with which things were previously draped as obstructions which it, with superior wisdom and praiseworthy courage, will now strip away. Imagination and indirection it identifies with obscurantism; the mediate is an enemy of freedom.
Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1948, Reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 24.
From the culture, media, and public square, we Christians are increasingly experiencing ridicule, hatred, and persecution. Here is a sobering reminder from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian who lived from 1906 to 1945, who also received persecution, and was even (many would say) martyred:
The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the divisions which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near; and they must hold on and persevere until it comes
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: A Touchstone Book, 1995), 215-16
David Wells latest offering, God in the Whirlwind, is well-worth one’s time. Here’s just one of the many excellent excerpts:
“There is a distinction between the crucifixion and the cross. The former was a particularly barbaric way of carrying out an execution, and it was the method of execution that Jesus endured. The latter, as the New Testament speaks of it, has to do with the mysterious exchange that took place in Christ’s death, an exchange of our sin for his righteousness…This is why dramatic presentations of Christ’s death, such as on TV and in movies, so often miss the point. They give us the crucifixion, not the cross.” (130)
Annie Dillard is unconventional, intriguing, and all-in-all enchanting. In her essay “An Expedition to the Pole” found in Teaching a Stone to Talk she subtly likens a deepening relationship with God to an expedition to the North Pole. In this quote she quite rightly observes that God does not demand all of us unless, of course, we want to be close to Him.
God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.
Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all…unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.
You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1982), 43.
Thomas Shepard was a Puritan in colonial New England, who lived from 1605 until 1649. He ties the “good works” question to Christ’s blood in this way:
Christ shed his blood that he might purchase unto himself a people zealous of good works, not to save our souls by them, but to honor him. O, let not the blood of Christ be shed in vain! Grace and good works are a Christian’s crown; it is sin only that makes a man base. Now, shall a king cast away his crown, because he bought not his kingdom by it? No; because it is his ornament and glory to wear it when he is made a king.
Stephen J. Nichols gives a wonderful introduction to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. In his introduction, he quotes Luther commenting the Gospel found in Romans 1. A beautiful reminder of the glorious Gospel we’ve been commissioned to share.
According to the Apostle in Romans 1, the gospel is a preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace…
…Therefore the true glory of God springs from the gospel. At the same time sea re taught that the law is fulfilled not by our works but by the grace of God who pities us in Christ and that it shall be fulfilled not through works but through faith, not by anything we offer God, but by all we receive from Christ and partake of him.
Stephen J. Nichols, ed. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2002), 16.
Thomas Paine, who famously wrote Common Sense and The Rights of Man, also wrote The Age of Reason. It was in The Age of Reason that Thomas Paine sought to undermine historic Christianity in favor of Deism, or, as he saw it, “pure religion”. Calvinist Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller responded to Paine’s work. In this quote, Fuller says that philosophy (or reason) can only take one so far.
[I]t might be proved that every system of philosophy is little in comparison of Christianity. Philosophy may expand our ideas of creation; but it neither inspires love to the moral character of the Creator, nor well-grounded hope of eternal life. Philosophy, at most, can only place us at the top of Pisgah: there, like Moses, we must die; it gives us no possession of the good land. It is the province of Christianity to add, “All is yours!” When you have ascended to the height of human discovery, there are things, and things of infinite moment too, that are utterly beyond its reach. Revelation is the medium, and the only medium, by which, standing, as it were, “on nature’s Alps,” we discover things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and of which it never hath entered into the heart of man to conceive.
How great was my sin before, how tightly I find it clinging now, and how I look to that day when I shall be glorified and called by a unique name…Lord haste the day!
“A Hymn to God the Father” [thought to have been written in 1623]
I. Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For, I have more.
II. Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year, or two: but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.
III. I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thy self, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I have no more.
John Donne, The Complete English Poems ed. A. J. Smith (1971 repr., Harmondsworh, England: Penguin Books, 1996), 348-349