Is in-person human contact now a luxury good? You might be forgiven for this impression, at least in elite coastal America, after seeing the photos from New York’s $30,000-a-ticket Met Gala last week. In one already-notorious image Carolyn Maloney, a Democratic representative for New York City, sports a gown that trailed multiple banners bearing the…Welcome to fully automated luxury gnosticism
Recently I commented on a post by Dr. Larry Chapp on his back and forth with Ralph Martin on the number of people who will end up in Hell. My response to this was as follows, from Bossuet’s Elevations:
As far as the number of people who are going to Hell, probably the best response comes from the great Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI ,5:
“It is commonly believed that there were three, because of the three presents which they offered. The Church does not say and why does it matter to us to know? It is enough that we know that they were of a number known to God, of the few, of the little flock that God chooses. Look at the vast expanse of the Orient and that of the whole universe. God first calls only this small number; and, when the number of those who serve him is increased, this number, though great in itself, will be small in comparison with the infinite number of those who perish. Why? O man! Who are you, to question God and ask the reason for his advice? Take advantage of the grace offered to you, and leave to God the knowledge of his counsels and the causes of his judgments. You are tempted to disbelief at the sight of the few who have been saved, and you quickly reject the remedy presented to you. Like a foolish patient who, in a large hospital where a doctor would come to him with an infallible remedy, instead of abandoning himself to his direction, he would look to the right and left what he would do with others. Unhappy man, think of your salvation, without showing off your crazy and prideful curiosity over the rest of the sick. Did the Magi say in their hearts: let us not go, because why also does not God call all men? They went, they saw, they worshipped, they offered their presents: they were saved.”
To which Dr. Chapp replied:
If I believed that to be a true expression of Christian Revelation, I would cease being a Christian.
My reaction to that: “Huh?”
You learn very early online that people not understanding something doesn’t stop them from responding to it, and vehemently in many cases. I try to avoid that but sometimes my responders/trolls get the best of me. Let’s see if we can make this best of this mystery.
First, if Dr. Chapp were more familiar with Ralph Martin and the whole Catholic Charismatic Renewal, he would have more ammo to make his own response. Martin’s idea that most people go to Hell is a piece with the remnant theology that dominated the Renewal. It led to the covenant communities and ultimately to the Sword of the Spirit, which Martin himself, realizing that they were over the top, fell out with. I’ve come back at Martin myself and won’t go further with that.
Second, the whole debate over the number who will end up in Hell is one of the most distasteful parlor games in all Christianity, especially when it’s applied individually. God only knows this. It is impossible for limited, finite creatures to have this knowledge. That’s doubtless for the best, I don’t think that we could be trusted with this information. In that respect it’s on par with the Reformed concept of election and knowing the signs thereof.
At this point I’m tempted to say that we have a point-of-view issue. My experience tells me that, with seminary academics and those trained by same, that’s a sure way of getting them to go postal on you. Irrespective of their theological framework, be it rigidly traditional (no matter what tradition you’re talking about) or whether they have drunk from the dregs of modern or post-modern thought, they’re like the fundies: their way is God’s way, and woe to the person who challenges them on that.
But that’s what we’re dealing with here. Chapp and Martin debate the number of people going to Hell; Bossuet deflects our attention from that question towards “What are you going to do about your eternal destiny?” Bossuet is not an original thinker, but he’s capable of distilling some very complex theology into a simple format, as he does in the earlier Elevations. In this case, however, he’s more in a pastoral and soul winning frame of reference. This may be alien to Chapp’s view of things, but it is what it is.
In some ways, it’s like the difference between engineers and scientists. Scientists seek to understand how things work as they are; engineers seek to use that knowledge to fix things and solve problems. Chapp is trying to take the former course, but as you might expect I prefer the latter.
Melvin and Lois Hodges teamed with veteran missionary Ralph Williams, who practiced English missionary Roland Allen’s philosophy of indigenous principles. While ministering in Nicaragua, Hodges was given an opportunity to put into practice these principles, which Allen called “the missionary methods of St. Paul.” He established a Bible school in Matagalpa and ministered to native Nicaraguans.
Roland Allen’s work was, in my opinion, the single most important missiological work of the last century, and the churches that adopted it experienced growth whose effects can be seen at the present.
Although Allen’s idea is certainly rooted in the New Testament (including the day of Pentecost itself) Pentecostal churches took up his idea (consciously or not) out of necessity as much as anything else. Lacking the home base funding and infrastructure of churches such as the Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist or even their near antecedents the Methodists, Pentecostal churches had little choice other than getting those in the field up to speed quickly and on their own resources.
It’s interesting to note that Allen died in 1947 in Nairobi, Kenya, which is the centre of the current controversy over women in the Anglican episcopate.
It’s one of Bossuet’s most famous quotations, and in my opinion his best. It comes from his discussion of the nature of the Magi, some of which is here:
The Magi, are they absolute kings or dependent on a greater empire? or are they only great lords, which gave them the name of kings, according to the custom of their country? Or are they only sages, philosophers, the arbiters of religion in the empire of the Persians or, as it was called then, in that of the Parthians, or in some part of this empire which extended by all the East? Do you think I am going to resolve these doubts and satisfy your curious desires? You are wrong; I did not take pen in hand to teach you the thoughts of men; I will only tell you that they were the scholars of their country, observers of the stars, whom God takes by their attraction, rich and powerful, as their presents make it appear; if they were among those who presided over religion, God had made himself known to them, and they had renounced the worship of their country.Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI, 3
It’s done, per the notice on the right.
Rather than endure the accusation that he can no longer defend himself, I’ll stick with stuff I’ve already posted, some of which goes back to the beginning of this website/blog.
I’ll start with John Shelby Spong, Surrender Monkey:
John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, is a surrender monkey. His “Call for a New Reformation” is really a call to wave the white flag, throw in the towel, and give up on the God revealed in both Jewish and Christian history. We need, he says, a new language for God because “most theological God-talk is meaningless.”…From Bayard Taylor’s The Late Great Ape Debate
I’d go easier on Spong if he’d had a faith crisis, realised he could no longer affirm the basic biblical worldview and teaching, and then had the honesty and integrity to step down from his position of leadership. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he went on the warpath against anything that smells like traditional Christian faith, and he’s tried to take his whole church down his revisionist road. Christians who disagree with him he attacks as “fundamentalists,” and in his worldview, that’s about the worst insult you can utter. Spong ironically exhibits many of the worst attitudes he decries in others: narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and belligerence. He’s a first-rate fundamentalist for his own worldview. (pp. 109-10)
From here we go to John Shelby Spong: Calling the Bluff of a White Supremacist:
Spong, as he likes to remind us, is a Southerner, and thus is a descendant of white supremacists of another era. (This is not an uncharitable generalisation; white supremacy was simply assumed by most people raised on that side of the racial divide in the South from the days of slavery to the 1960’s.) His transformation from that to radical is, in part, an attempt to achieve upward intellectual (and perhaps social) mobility. Unfortunately his attitude towards the Africans shows that he is all too willing to take a leaf from his ancestors’ playbook when it suits his purpose.
It’s worth noting that he died in the old capital of the Confederacy.
Part of Spong’s problem was that he was a Southerner in a Northern place. He thought that people would always go to church somewhere, no matter how stupid things got. This is a common mistake among our ministers. It simply doesn’t work that way in the Northeast.
Beyond that Spong was an old style radical; he thought that, if we completely changed what Christianity stood for, it would be more acceptable to the modern and post-modern world. That hasn’t worked out either. Today’s liberal, imbued with post-modernism, practices a form of deception (and self-deception) that rivals anything Islam can be accused of. They use words that mean one thing to others but something entirely different to themselves.
Last and not least When Church Becomes Pointless, one of the first things I posted when this site began in 1997:
So let’s take this a step further; suppose you are sitting in an Episcopal pew listening to John Shelby Spong go on about why the basic truths of Christianity have no basis in reality and that those who teach them are a bunch of morons. Suppose that you finally realize that you think that Spong is right; that all that you’ve said when you’re repeated the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed is false and that the life you have is all you’re expected to get. What should you do? You should first realize that life is short and that, if you’re going to live you’d better hurry. So the sensible thing for you to do is to get up, gather your family, walk out of the church, get into your Lexus or Mercedes, and head to Atlantic City or Las Vegas or South Florida or wherever you need to go to live it up while you still can.
This illustration is to demonstrate a simple point. If Spong and the other liberals are right, they’re wrong, because the church is really unnecessary and the time we spend there is a waste. If they’re wrong, they’re really wrong, because they’re sending people to an awful eternity by the unbelief they spread.
There’s more, but I’ll stop. All I have to say is that life for some of us would have been a lot sweeter and simpler without the likes of John Shelby Spong.
America is reeling from President Biden’s chaotic abandonment of American citizens, our Afghan allies, and religious minorities in Afghanistan. Twenty years ago this very week, America was also reeling when two jetliners smashed into the World Trade Center, a third slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania as its valiant passengers overpowered their Islamist captors.Read it all: Missing the Signs: The Religious Motivations of the 9/11 Attackers
Today of course is the twentieth anniversary of the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centres and the Pentagon. I’ve done this before but I’m going to post again the slide show/video I made for the Church of God Chaplains Commission about that event and the ministry response the church made, presented at the Church of God General Assembly the following year.
The video is divided into two parts. The first is a photo montage of the attacks; they’re still hard to watch. The second is a “roll call” of those in the church who ministered during and after the attacks, including some from Afghanistan.
In preparing this under the direction of the then Executive Director of the Commission, Dr. Robert Crick, it wasn’t our intention to produce a patriotic presentation but to focus on the Christian ministry that took place. Given recent events in Afghanistan, the wisdom of that choice has been underscored. What we do in ministry has eternal results that transcend the successes and failures of temporal nations and causes.
And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to be.Hebrews 13:12-14 TCNT
This morning’s devotional from St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Memphis features the following morning scripture reading, part of which is reproduced below:
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. 16 And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”
17 As soon as he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone out of his hand. And that place was called Ramath-lehi…
Every time I see that passage (the Authorised Version refers to it as “the jawbone of an ass”) I think of a story told by my second year Latin teacher, the Rev. Raymond O’Brien, a fine Episcopal minister. (My story about him, intiction and the French bread is here.)
He told the story of an Episcopal seminarian who informed his committee that he wanted to take his oral examinations as a fundamentalist. The committee was aghast; what self-respecting Episcopalian would want to do anything as a fundamentalist? So one of the committee members asked him, “Do you really think that Samson slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass?”
His response: “Well, when I consider the havoc the jawbones of some asses have wrought…”
When we consider the course of the Anglican/Episcopal world since then, the response makes much more sense.
Full disclosure: while pursuing my PhD, I successfully petitioned out of my oral examinations. I doubt I’d have a comeback quite as snappy as that one.
What policymakers can aim for is not a total end to Covid-19 but a balancing act. On one side of that scale is containing Covid-19 with restrictions and precautions. On the other is resuming normal, pre-pandemic life. Vaccines have changed the balance by giving us the ability to contain Covid-19’s worst outcomes — hospitalization and death — with less weight on the side of restrictions. But vaccines alone can’t drive hospitalizations and deaths to zero if all the weight on the restriction side is removed.
In part, that was the point of my piece Teaching Secular Blasphemy. Given the fact that we are continually “behind the curve” in suppressing the virus, and the natural uncertainties built into processes like this, eliminating COVID altogether in a short time frame was a fool’s errand from the start. But our leaders–and that includes those in the public health community–played on Americans’ obsession with the “perfect life” concept. (And the Aussies have done that on steroids.) No one would admit that there were trade-offs in this whole process.
Perhaps this is a sign that a reality check is underway. Perhaps.
This is a “well worn” path for the Christmas season. In addition to that, there are two distinctly Catholic (well, at least one) themes that Bossuet explores: the perpetual virginity of Mary and the poverty of Jesus as an example to his followers. The elevations here are as follows: Elevations on the Birth of Jesus […]Elevations on the Birth of Jesus Christ