Some Old/New Advent and Christmas Resources

For many churches, it’s time to think about the Advent/Christmas season. Maybe you’ve already started. Maybe you’re dealing with serious questions, like…should I ask N to light the Advent wreath after he/she almost burned the church down last year? Or perhaps…is there a reason why the congregation mouths the sermons I’m preaching, they are after all the same ones I’ve been doing for the last several years.

Seriously, the Advent/Christmas season is a great season not only to celebrate the incarnation and birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but also to present the Gospel to people who normally don’t darken the doors of your church. But how to do so on a path so well worn and trod?

One way is to use the Biblical story of the coming of Our Lord as a way to illustrate various parts of the Christian life. That was done masterfully by the French bishop Jaques Bénigne Bossuet in his Elevations on the Mysteries. I have spent the last seven years (off and on, mostly off) translating this work into English, and it’s now translated and being posted. The “Advent/Christmas” parts that are completely posted are as follows:

Currently coming out twice a week are the elevations on “The Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple, and the Purification of the Holy Virgin.” These should be done by Christmas; if you’re interested, you can subscribe to the blog for these and the rest of the elevations that are to be posted.

I trust these are a blessing and useful to you.

That Pesky Johnson Amendment Strikes Again

This time for the Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ video for African-American churches:

Democratic leaders have pulled out the stops to try to help Terry McAuliffe in his struggling campaign for governor in Virginia. Figures from Barack Obama to Stacey Abrams have stumped for McAuliffe who is in a tight race with businessman Glenn Youngkin. The key for McAuliffe is black voters, and to spur turnout Vice President Kamala Harris has taped an endorsement of McAuliffe that is reportedly being played at hundreds of African American churches around the state. The problem is the “Johnson Amendment” makes such political pitches in churches a violation of federal law.

I was (and am) unenthusiastic about repealing the Johnson Amendment, as was the hue and cry from many white evangelicals during the Trump years:

I think that political activity needs to be the province of the laity.  And I’ve heard Christian politicians show a stronger grasp on what the Gospel is all about than ministers about political issues.  To put our ministers in the “driver’s seat” of political activity is to cede yet another function of the laity, reducing the latter to passive consumers of the church’s product.  And we have enough of that unBiblical kind of thing going on as it is.

As I said at the start, freedom is something that needs to be used wisely.  If you get it, be careful: you may end up losing it all if you blow it.

Although I am aware of the role that African-American churches have played in the civil rights movement, if things like this make political activity in churches de facto or de jure acceptable, it may have this effect for everyone:

The danger of the right is the same as Harry Reid’s doing away with the super-majority filibuster for nominees: if the political wind reverses, you’ve given yourself the shaft. In both cases the reality of the Gospel is obscured by our desires of the moment.

Nazir-Ali Swims the Tiber

As fellow swimmer Gavin Ashenden notes:

It has been announced that Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, has left Anglicanism and become a Roman Catholic.

He was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, entering the ordinariate on his name day, the feast of St Michael, two weeks ago.

This is without doubt one of the most politically and theologically significant changes of allegiance in the Christian world for some time.

The problem here–and it’s one I pointed out with Ashenden himself–is that the current Occupant of St. Peter is gunning, one way or another, to remake Roman Catholicism into the image and likeness of the Anglicanism Nazir-Ali left. It was a good move for me a half century ago; now, not so much.

Given that Francis is putting the squeeze on the Tridentine Mass people, if some of same traditionalists decide that the Ordinariate is a reasonable alternative to the “hippy-dippy” Novus Ordo Mass, he’ll put the squeeze on them too. People like Ashenden and Nazir-Ali haven’t quite grasped that Roman Catholicism was just one bull away from going over the same cliff they’re trying to dodge, and some think that bull is either out or impending.

It’s not a happy situation to be in, but it’s where we are, and any amount of projection that it’s something else will only bring temporary relief.

Geniuses: From Suicidal to Criminal

Now the latter is under investigation:

Dr. James Clinton Oleson, an Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of Auckland, turned up this fascinating nugget of information after conducting anonymous surveys and interviews with 465 members of a high IQ society, who possessed an average IQ of 149. He compared their levels of self-reported criminality with those of a control group of 756 ‘bright’ individuals with an average IQ of 115, fifteen points above the societal mean score of 100. The ‘geniuses’ admitted to more crimes overall, and particularly committed more property crimes, white-collar crimes, and violent crimes.

I’ve discussed the suicidal aspects of genius in The Geniuses Commit Suicide, with some backup. As a society we make peoples’ lives miserable over observations about intelligence, and breathe “intelligence” and “meritocracy” in the same breath. But on the other hand we are obsessed with socialisation and, behind the facade, we are worried that the gifted will take over, so we beat them down. The result is that, in practical life, superior intelligence is a liability rather than an asset.

If we could just find a way to let people rise to their potential and let that benefit everyone, we’d have less suicide and criminality in those who happen to do well on IQ tests.

The Unsaid Lesson of Francis Collins

He gets is both barrels from Nate Fisher at the American Reformer:

Collins has long been celebrated by evangelical influencers, and upon his departure those praising him included Russell Moore, Tim Keller, and David French. The well-credentialed  evangelicals who populate urban churches like Keller’s have been taught to aspire to a “faithful presence” in elite institutions, and Collins is often viewed as epitomizing this. He succeeded not just at an elite level, but in the scientific world, a domain where Christians have a particularly hard time gaining respect.

Yet Collins’s record over his 12 years atop the NIH shows serious and repeated moral compromises. That he continues to be praised as a model by elite-adjacent evangelicals suggests that what matters is the “presence” in elite circles far more than faithfulness to any clear Christian moral standard.

If there’s one thing shocking about American Evangelicalism, it’s its blindness to the moral hazard of getting into the upper reaches of a society. Having been brought up in the upper reaches of this one, that moral hazard was definitely apparent.

And yet, with the “have it all” and “move up” mentality that permeates American Evangelicalism, there is a general blindness to that moral hazard. I’d be the first to admit that Francis Collins’ rise is amazingand objected to by secular types–but the things which Fisher lays out should be expected in an era when moral corners are to be cut, especially in the biomedical field.

I think Evangelicals should be more careful about the way they lionise people who move up the way Collins has, and more importantly quit encouraging people to constantly push themselves into positions where they have to make decisions and compromises such as Collins has had to do. Do we really need to push our children into elite schools? Did we think about the compromises we would have to make in a major political movement? Questions like these and many others go unasked and unanswered in the Evangelical world, which is a major reason we ended up with Donald Trump. Many of the same elite-adjacent evangelicals (such as those listed above) who have blubbered about the support for Trump have pushed people into aspiring for high positions and secular success, which in turn encourages successful political action, which in turn…

You can’t have it both ways; make up your minds.