Monday, 10/5/15

  1. Miserando atque eligendo
  2. Every Christian a theologian
  3. When common sense lacks a prooftext
  4. Paradox upon paradox
  5. Serving up news like tea
  6. Paul Theroux does the South like Debbie Does Dallas
  7. Safe Campus Act
  8. Most Simplistic Analysis award


And yet meeting Kim Davis means so much. It means that Pope Francis has mercy even for those whom the establishment—the people who know the right people, think the right things, and walk in the corridors of influence—detest. Kim Davis is not only wrong, but her dresses are frumpy. She lives in Kentucky. Her church doesn’t even believe in the Trinity.

It is good that Pope Francis has broken out of the categories into which we put him, that he has foiled our expectations for what his mercy should look like. It is embarrassing to watch the self-anointed proponents of mercy be so stingy. The very people who acclaimed Francis as the messenger of kindness and compassion, who underscored him washing prisoners’ feet and embracing refugees, claim that, because this gesture doesn’t fit their narrative or Kim Davis is the wrong kind of person, it means nothing. That mercy was good, they say; this mercy is a mistake.

(Nathaniel Peters) One of the more egregious examples of “Kim Davis is the wrong kind of person” was captured in this NPR Podcast summary:

Marianne Duddy-Burke, head of Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, says she was inspired by Pope Francis’ visit. That turned to disappointment with news the pontiff met secretly with Kim Davis.

Duddy-Burke, who was at the White House reception for the Pope and who NPR classified as a “faithful Catholic,” spoke of the meeting with Davis in terms of “betrayal,” “outrage,” and a “real slap in the face.”

I can’t help but think in terms of “shouldest not thou also have had compassion?”


I had occasion very recently to spend some time with a largish group of old Evangelical friends.

I don’t know that it ever dawned on me in quite these words, but it seems to me that the Evangelical paradigm is “every Christian a theologian.” An Evangelical with a modest but fierce following, “Col. R.B. Thieme, Jr.,” put this attitude in terms jarringly pseudo-scientific and deeply misguided: “Nothing pleases God more than doctrine in the frontal lobe.” Thieme was extreme, but not too extreme to have an eager following at First Baptist Church of Prescott, Arizona back 36+ years ago.

Two of the dozen or fewer guys I hung out with recently had seminary degrees, though at least one of them never made it as a pastor. Not everyone was expected to be ordained, but the badge of a sound Christian was theological sophistication, memorization of Bible verses, encyclopedic knowledge of just how the Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even Seventh Day Adventists boogered up “sound” theology, and other such intellectual feats.

I encountered one of my old friends who exemplified that sort of thing. He got his latest (of several) Bible or theology degrees around age 63. He has a unique dispensationalist insight (not just any old dispensationalism, but a unique twist) into end-times prophesy and has published a book on it (apparently some vanity press; Amazon doesn’t have it). But he’s not a Baptist; he’s more Presbyterian. He was excitedly talking almost the whole evening. He allowed as how he’d studied and taught Church history and there were some things he liked about Orthodoxy.

I used to play that game and, I thought, play it pretty well. I, too, had some unique insights.

And then the entire foundation was knocked out from under me. My edifice collapsed. Picking apart Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists was really low-hanging fruit. We skipped over a millennium of Church history between (a garbled version of) Constantine and Martin Luther, ignoring the question of Orthodoxy, and encountering Roman Catholicism almost entirely through polemical secondary source that were a barely better than a Jack Chick tract.

So I started over as a novice Orthodox Christian in my late 40s. I came to recognize that in many ways, doctrine and theology function for me as ways to avoid actual intimacy with God, which was (and still is to a degree) a fearsome thing.

The Orthodox paradigm is not “every Christian a theologian” but “every Christian a saint.” You don’t have to be smart or sophisticated to be a saint.You don’t have to own a “theological” library to rival a seminary. You don’t have to be adult. Judging from the hagiographies of some saints, you don’t even have to look sane (I’m thinking of the “fools for Christ”). And if you’ve only got a few hours per day after earning your livelihood, prayer is a better way to spend most of it than Bible study. There’s even an Orthodox saying that the true theologian is the one who prays well.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.


I hadn’t planned to continue on this topic, but it seems to me that Doug Wilson, a pretty well-known Reformed (Calvinist) pastor in Moscow, Idaho (You’ve never heard of him? Maybe that’s because he’s not on TV), is demonstrating how far off the rails “Bible-only” proof-texting can take you, as he doubles down on knowingly and intentionally officiating the semi-“arranged” marriage of a multiple-offense pedophile to a 23 year old woman with whom he clearly intended to have children (with whom the court would in due course forbid him to live with lest he molest them). There’s more twists and turns than I’ll take time to describe, and some of them sound almost cultic. Rod Dreher told the story here and follows up here.

The notable thing is how Wilson has defended himself, in his own words taken from Dreher’s followup:

What precisely would Rod have wanted me to do? Would he want me to refuse to conduct the wedding, or would he want me to simply prohibit the wedding flat out? If I just refused to officiate, and Steven got married by a justice of the peace, what then? Would I have to excommunicate him for marrying? There is no biblical case for that. If his wife is fully apprised of all the facts, and she was, and she wanted to marry him, should I excommunicate them both for marrying? Don’t I need a verse or something?

Many of the questions of this sort boil down to this: why didn’t you cover your butt better than that? And the only answer I know how to give is that covering your butt is not gospel ministry.

This kind of controversy gives fuller meaning to the communion of opprobrium that faithful ministers of every age share. Jesus says that we are to rejoice when people revile us, in part because of the company it puts us in.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:11–12 Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

And Jesus doesn’t say we are to be a little bit glad. He says exceeding glad. He says that we are to go around the corner, get out of their sight, and do a little jig. In this case, Nancy — a Puritan jewel — celebrated by buying me a nice bottle of Laphroaig [single-malt scotch].

We have to be able to tell the difference because Jesus is teaching us to tell the difference. Unbelievers treat insipid Christians with contempt and they treat salty Christians with active hostility and hatred. When some manifestation of this arises, every Christian involved has to make a judgment call as to which it is, and has to be careful not to affirm the consequent. He has to read the situation correctly. And if he decides rightly and raises a glass of Scotch in a faithful toast, it matters not if men like Rod Dreher find it convenient to sneer at the obedience.

Thursday, as I understand your concern here, you are thinking that if I am good with Sitler marrying, and if down the road he molests one of his own children, that was something that I should have anticipated, and therefore bear some responsibility for. Is that correct?

Now the question should also go the other way. If I refuse to let him marry, and so he does not, and five years down the road is caught molesting a neighborhood child, do I — because of my refusal to let him marry — bear any responsibility?

The answer, of course, is that we cannot know the answer unless we know which path is more likely to reduce the risk of recidivism. In order to know that, we have to have a standard that tells us. The standard I am using is that of 1 Corinthians, which tells us that marriage is a help against immorality. What standard are you appealing to, and why?

There are questions here that neither Dreher nor Wilson has touched. I’ve wallowed in this mire long enough already, so I’m not going to go into them now.

I mostly wanted to note how impoverishing it can be to common sense to insist on “a verse or something” before saying “yes” to something wholesome or “no” to something evil or stupid. That’s not because of any deficiency in the Bible, but because of the misake of adding “sola” to “scriptura” (as commonly understood today). (It seems to me from having heard or read a number of efforts that one cannot even “prove” sola scriptura without going outside scripture and pretexting from some Church Fathers!)

But I’ll close with “a verse or something” for Wilson: “When thou hast screwed up, and findest thyself deep in a hole, cease thy digging.” Hezekiah 12:12.


Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom… The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.

Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability.

(Pope Francis’s homily at the family synod’s opening Mass)


“Night after night,” Moyers told me, “the realities of life for the vast majority of Americans rarely show up on public television — neither in its public-affairs programming nor its prime-time fare. There has been one documentary all year on the flailing middle class and the forgotten poor. Our Washington coverage, by design or not, serves up ‘news’ the way the butler serves tea on Downton Abbey, so as not to disturb the master class. Even my friends at WETA, our flagship station in Washington, passed up the award-winning documentary Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth to air instead another episode of Antiques Roadshow and a program about the British royal family. And PBS has commissioned a series for next year, using U.S. taxpayer funds, on the ‘great homes’ of Great Britain. Not on homelessness in America. Unbelievable!”

(Bill Moyers, critiquing news coverage on PBS, in Harpers) He has a point, but I still know no better coverage. If you do, leave a comment. I’m looking for serious coverage, not just something designed to stir up a left or right readership/viewership.


The South is a complicated place because of slavery and race, and riveting because the reality of our past was built on epic brutality and the history of that past is built on epic myth. The cause of the Civil War was slavery, and many blacks and whites in the South are still struggling with a barbarous poverty that has plagued the region since the plantation economy was rightfully smashed by force of arms. Racial fury, in one form or another, has postponed any decent economic recovery for a century and a half.

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with the Deep South knows these are givens, not discoveries. They have been for decades, and it seems unconscionable that anyone, especially America’s premier travel writer, would burn up thousands of words and gallons of gas to experience so many trampled epiphanies.

Jack Hitt, reviewing Paul Theroux’s Deep South. You could even call it a Hitt Job, but it sounds deserved.

At the other extreme, there’s McGraw-Hill history books. That’s more like what Bill Moyers complained about.


Trent Lott and co-author claim to be rethinking how we deal with campus sexual assault. I suggest they’re not thinking very deeply, and I’d oppose the Safe Campus Act they extol.


I don’t write much about guns, but it should be noted that “liberals” (i.e., blue left-liberals versus red right-liberals) can give the most ignorant hick a run for the “Most Simplistic Analysis” title when dealing with guns. That includes our left-liberal President.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.