Friday, August 16, 2013

    1. “Literally”
    2. Regulating to death
    3. What I learned from Richard J. Mouw
    4. Assurance of Salvation – better than nothing
    5. Tolerable and intolerable homophobes
    6. Orthodox Distributism?
    7. I’ll see your identity politics and raise you a pity party


They’ve done it. They’ve abused a word so much that it has died as a useful signifier of anything:

It’s happened. Literally the most misused word in the language has officially changed definition. Now as well as meaning “in a literal manner or sense; exactly: ‘the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle'”, various dictionaries have added its other more recent usage. As Google puts it, “literally” can be used “to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling”.

(Martha Gill, Have we literally broken the English language?)

Misuse of “literally” has been a pet peeve of mine for at least 45 years. I recall then hearing a pompadoured college chaplain in the American South lament that “college students on campus today are literally raising Cain.” Or maybe it was “raising cane.” It was spoken, so who knows, but the topic of the sermon wasn’t the ag school at the University of Hawaii, so I took it as literal abuse.

It started mattering to me even more a decade or so later because I came to see that people who purported to take the Bible “literally” but who abused the word elsewhere were dubious guides. My favorite example of a supposed Biblical literalist mangling language was Hal “Late Great Planet Earth” Lindsey, the most-often-proved-false prophet now living. He said that “locusts” in the Apocalypse of St. John were Huey helicopters, as part of his “the Bible is as fresh as the morning news, which shows prophecy fulfillment every day” schtick.

Now I’m concerned that a few egghead Biblical “literalists” (i.e., not Hal Lindsey, who never would be mistaken for an egghead) have gone cherry-picking among the Church Fathers, finding places where this or that luminary defended what he called the “literal” meaning of Scripture. True to form (i.e., ignoring context), they overlook that the literal meaning was being defended as against an allegorical interpretation. In other words, the “literalist” Church Fathers were saying “I think this Biblical passage is based on something that really happened; I reject the idea that it’s an allegory.” They were not (or were not necessarily) saying “I think it happened as clinically and infallibly describe in this Biblical passage.”

So for people who care about the Bible, and how it’s been interpreted through the ages, dropping the term as The Guardian column suggests probably isn’t an option. Soldier on.


Is the Obama administration out to kill public schools?

When conservatives propose to add some legal safeguard – typically to ensure that consent to abortion is truly informed, and that women aren’t being fed the “it’s only a blob of tissue” lie – they’re accused of trying to shut down abortuaries. There’s probably more than a grain of truth to the accusation.

So when Obama’s Justice Department forces bizarre and labyrinthine new “civil rights” protections on public schools, aren’t they contributing to the flight of all who can afford to flee, and to eventual defunding the now-corrupt system?


Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, writes a brief appreciation of the late Robert Bellah over at First Things. What he learned added up to less than full agreement, as one would expect and hope of a theologian looking at a sociologist of religion.

Of Habits of the Heart:

The authors had laid out the ways in which the two major strands of individualism—utilitarian and expressive—have begun to impoverish our language in American life so that it is increasingly difficult for people to speak clearly about matters of commitment. The antidote, the Bellah team said, is the cultivation of “communities of memory” where older ways of speaking about the issues of life are preserved.

It is clear that the Bellah team was dissenting from the widespread bias among theologians against emphasizing “the social utility of religion”—as was Bellah in his earlier defense of civil religion. I find that anti-utility bias to be too simplisitic. To be sure, religion ought not to be valued merely for its social utility. But we ought to be thankful for the ways in which religious convictions also serve the common good. But here is an irony. In the twenty-eight years since Habits of the Heart appeared, Christian worship has increasingly come to employ the language of the very individualisms criticized by the Bellah team. The most obvious case in point is the “prosperity Gospel” movement, where trust in God is seen as an effective means for attaining “health and wealth” benefits. But in less overt ways, the language of much newer hymnody and preaching sounds like individualism, especially of the “expressive” variety.

Thus far, so good. Unfortunately, Mouw goes on to lament the recent kerfuffle over “wrath” in a particular hymn, the authors of which hymn declined to allow its excision to make the hymn fit for a mainstream presbyterian hymnal. On that, I think the hymnal compilers have the better argument, though presbyterian is no longer my tradition and it is Mouw’s.

But it’s a close call. “Wrath” is less central to Biblical language than some Western Christian conservatives seem to think, but it’s not entirely absent.


Q: Which would you rather have: complete happiness in life or a ham sandwich?

A: A ham sandwich, because nothing it better than complete happiness in life and a ham sandwich is better than nothing.

This came to mind for some reason as Silouan Thompson answered an infrequently-asked question: “Does the Orthodox Church believe in assurance of salvation?” His answer begins:

It’s important to note that righteousness (justification), holiness (sanctification), and wholeness (healing) are not discrete gifts we receive. God does not bestow these packets of blessing on us as things we either have or don’t have. Instead, we are given Christ. And He, personally, is all our righteousness, holiness, and wholeness.

As a Calvinist, I cherished assurance of salvation. I’m not so sure now that there is such a thing, although  there certainly is false assurance of salvation (as with those who boast of their assurance and then so flame out that perhaps even they lose their assurance; everyone else sure loses any assurance about them). But even if false assurance is better than nothing, I’ll take Christ.


Hypocrisy, left and right, is pandemic. But be it noted that our esteemed Preener In Chief is a bit selective in his “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate or are harmful to them.” To-wit: his indignation is limited to Russia, though Islamdom is frankly and explicitly far worse:

Sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible.

America paid in blood and treasure” to bring to power the sage behind that bit of social ethics.


I’m pleased to read that a leading Russian Orthodox official is supportive of something that sounds like Distributism:

“Sooner or later [economic growth] will stop, as [the] resources of the planet are limited, and demand, even senseless, can’t grow forever,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who leads the Moscow patriarchate’s Department for Church and Society Relations. “Self-sufficiency and self-limitation in acquiring earthly goods were always characteristic of Orthodox civilization,” he added. “Its traditions teach not to endlessly multiply material riches, but to be happy with the little or at least sensible amount of earthly goods. I think that the future belongs to such [an] attitude.”


One Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition wishes “the homosexuality debate” could play out a bit differently:

Just once, I’d like to see a TV interview go more like this:

Host: You are a Christian pastor, and you say you believe the Bible, which means you are supposed to love all people.

Pastor: That’s right.

Host: But it appears to me that you and your church take a rather unloving position when it comes to gay people. Are homosexuals welcome to come to your church?

Pastor: Of course. We believe that the gospel is a message relevant for every person on the planet, and we want everyone to hear the gospel and find salvation in Jesus Christ …

Host: But who are you to condemn someone who doesn’t line up with your personal beliefs about sexuality?

Pastor: Who am I? No one. It’s not all that important what I think about these things. This conversation about homosexuality isn’t really about my personal beliefs. They’re about Jesus and what He says. I have no right to condemn or judge the world. That right belongs to Jesus. My hope is to follow Him faithfully. That means that whatever He says in regard to sexual practices is what I believe to be true, loving, and ultimately best for human flourishing – even when it seems out of step with the whims of contemporary culture …

Host: Are you saying that you can’t be gay and Christian?

Pastor: No. I’m saying that you can’t be a genuine Christian without repentance …

Host: …[I]t still seems like you are telling people not to be true to who they are.

Pastor: It only seems that way because you believe sexual desire reflects the core of one’s identity. It would help if you and others who agree with you would understand that in your putting pressure on me to accept homosexual behavior as normal and virtuous, you are going to the very core of my identity as a follower of Jesus. The label most important to me is “Christian.” My identity – in Christ – is central to who I am. So I could say the same thing and call you intolerant, bigoted, and hateful for trying to change a conviction that goes to the core of who I am as a Christian. I don’t say that because I don’t believe that’s your intention. But neither should you think it’s my intention to attack a homosexual person or cause them harm merely because I disagree ….

(Emphasis added)

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.