Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

30 April 2004

Muddled US mideast policy

In the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, James W. Skillen asks, "Why Save Arafat?" Writes Skillen:

Last year, the U.S. joined with the European Union, Russia, and the U.N. to endorse a "road map" to an eventual Middle East peace settlement. Then, suddenly, in the middle of April, without consulting the other three partners or considering the Palestinians, the president endorsed an Israeli plan by Sharon to annex permanently some sizable, illegal, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and to remove Israeli settlers in Gaza sometime next year. Most of the deal violates 40 years of U.S. and international agreements. Senator, and presidential candidate, John Kerry, also endorsed the plan.

On April 27, following the Bush-Sharon meeting, 100 former British diplomats, hardly America's enemies, wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair, to express dismay. The "new policies" announced by Bush and Sharon "are one-sided and illegal and...will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood."

Do Bush and Kerry imagine that U.S. interests in freedom, democracy, peace, and oil can all be secured with only one Middle East ally amidst growing anti-Americanism both in and far beyond that region?

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Philpott and sovereignty

Last week I obtained a copy of Daniel Philpott, Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations. Philpott teaches at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, where he is assistant professor of political science and director of undergraduate studies. I was given his name and alerted to the existence of his book by one of my contacts at Princeton last month. I understand he is a serious Christian grappling with the relationship between faith and international politics. He received his PhD from Harvard in 1996 and looks very young from his photograph. He is someone to watch out for in the future, as I am sure we will be hearing more from him. Students with an eye to graduate studies in international relations might cast their eyes in the direction of South Bend, Indiana, thus following others who have done the same.

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28 April 2004

Infant baptism

Few people know this, but I was baptized twice, once as an infant in a Presbyterian church and again 11 years later in a Baptist church. Much later again, after returning to my Reformed roots, I came to see my "second baptism" as a reaffirmation of my earlier baptism. Here is Hughes Oliphant Old on baptism:

Baptism when it is administered to children is a particularly clear sign that God out of his grace has taken the initiative for our salvation. If the classical Reformers of sixteenth-century Protestantism continued the practice of administering baptism to infants, it was because they had a very strong theology of grace. While the Reformers were strongly Augustinian, their opponents were openly Pelagian! The Anabaptists believed in decisional regeneration. That is, they believed one is saved by making a decision for Christ. There is a big difference between decisional regeneration and justification by faith. While the baptism of infants was perfectly consistent with a strong doctrine of grace and with the doctrine of justification by faith, it was not consistent with any kind of theology that makes salvation a matter of human decisions (Worship Reformed according to Scripture, p. 19).

While Old might have put the matter a bit less provocatively, I believe he is fundamentally correct to tie baptism to God's grace rather than to our own decision. I myself have always been conscious of belonging to Christ. To be sure, I have had moments of heightened sensitivity to my own sins and to the need for conversion. But these did not and could not save me. God's grace did that.

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27 April 2004

‘I’m personally opposed, but. . .'

The following opinion piece was published as part of my Principalities & Powers column in the 22 September 2003 issue of Christian Courier:

In 1984 the then-governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, made a famous speech at the University of Notre Dame, one of the best known Catholic universities in the United States. As a Catholic Christian himself, Gov. Cuomo used the occasion to clarify the way his faith affected his conduct in public office, particularly with respect to the abortion issue. Recognizing that his church condemns abortion in no uncertain terms, he affirmed his church’s teaching, indicating that he and his wife would never themselves have considered ending a pregnancy prematurely. Yet as a public office-holder, he believed it improper to impose his personal moral beliefs on others. In this way he justified his own pro-choice position on the issue.

Since then many other Christians in public office have taken the same approach, which amounts to saying, “I’m personally opposed, but. . . .” This strategy is almost always applauded by the secular media, whose representatives are formed from their earliest days by the assumption that religion is a purely private matter, never to intrude upon ordinary political discourse. When someone enters the political arena claiming to favour a particular position, and if it is known that her religion plays a role in this, the secularist mindset invariably cries foul.

In a recent National Post opinion piece, Claire Hoy pointed out the incongruity of this response. After all, every political agenda entails the imposition of a particular policy on one’s fellow citizens who may disagree with it. Thus when Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives won the 1988 election, they quite naturally used the opportunity to impose free trade with the United States on this country, despite the fact that it was disliked by anti-free-traders. Yet even among the latter, few claimed that Mulroney was doing something intrinsically wrong or undemocratic.

However, it is only when a political leader’s motives are known to be overtly religious in origin that this “imposition” is suddenly deemed illegitimate. Yet Mary Ann Glendon argues that when people advance their moral viewpoints in the political arena, they are proposing, not imposing. This is simply what democracy is about: citizens propose their preferred policy alternatives and defend them in public debate, after which they are voted on and implemented. “It’s a very strange doctrine,” writes Glendon, “that would silence only religiously grounded moral viewpoints.” By contrast, justice requires that, if secularists of the various ideological persuasions are permitted to advance their own agendas, so also should be the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Christian Coalition, and similar groups.

In a way one can understand secularists attempting to exclude from political deliberation those viewpoints that would explicitly undermine their own hegemony. For the past three centuries the followers of the secular ideologies have looked upon traditional religions as deeply divisive, seeing themselves as better positioned to keep domestic peace than their Jewish, Christian and Muslim fellow citizens. Thus they have no difficulty privileging their own point of view above that of these others.

However, it is harder to see why so many Christians have acquiesced in their own marginalization in the public square. Why would Gov. Cuomo so easily accept the secularists’ terms by sidelining his own moral convictions concerning the protection of the unborn? The cynical answer is that the abortion issue was simply not all that close to his heart, and there may well be something to that. But, more to the point, he and many other Christians are part of a culture where the marginalization of one’s ultimate beliefs is understood to be the normal state of affairs. The time has come to break through this apparent normality and to open up the public square.

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26 April 2004

What? A king for the US?

Many of us have probably heard of the Monarchist League of Canada. Since Canada is a constitutional monarchy, its role would seem clear enough. But check out these links: Monarchist Society of America and The Constantinian Society. Whom would they place on this nonexistent throne? Are there any claimants?

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25 April 2004

Cyprus unity very far away

There are always at least two sides to an issue. Turkish-Cypriots favoured the UN plan, while Greek-Cypriots decisively repudiated it yesterday. The EU, UN, US, &c., are now frustrated with the Greek side. Some are asking: "Do Greek Cypriots want a unification deal at all?" I will, of course, have more to say about all this at some point.

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Isaac Watts


Christian Biography Resources


Here is a wonderful liturgical resource: The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts. I will obviously have to add this link to my Genevan Psalter webpages. Here is a sample from this rich collection by the 18th-century hymn writer:

PSALM 23

My Shepherd is the living Lord;
Now shall my wants be well supplied;
His providence and holy word
Become my safety and my guide.

In pastures where salvation grows
He makes me feed, he makes me rest;
There living water gently flows,
And all the food's divinely blest.

My wand'ring feet his ways mistake,
But he restores my soul to peace,
And leads me, for his mercy's sake,
In the fair paths of righteousness.

Though I walk through the gloomy vale
Where death and all its terrors are,
My heart and hope shall never fail,
For God my Shepherd's with me there.

Amidst the darkness and the deeps
Thou art my comfort, thou my stay;
Thy staff supports my feeble steps,
Thy rod directs my doubtful way.

The sons of earth, and sons of hell,
Gaze at thy goodness, and repine
To see my table spread so well
With living bread and cheerful wine.

How I rejoice when on my head
Thy Spirit condescends to rest!
'Tis a divine anointing, shed
Like oil of gladness at a feast.

Surely the mercies of the Lord
Attend his household all their days;
There will I dwell to hear his word,
To seek his face, and sing his praise.


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24 April 2004

Cypriots at the polls

I wonder how many Cypriots on either side of the green line have read the exceedingly lengthy Annan Plan For Cyprus Settlement - Full Text? Probably as many as have read the equally lengthy 1960 Constitution. Greek and Turkish Cypriots go to the polls today to vote on the Annan Plan.

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23 April 2004

Anniversaries

One year ago yesterday I began this blog, which I initially named, Notes from Above Ground (a play on Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground), but quickly changed to Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the sudden and unexpected opening of the green line in Cyprus, allowing people on both sides to travel back and forth for the first time in almost three decades. Much has happened since then, but not nearly enough.

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Bishops of Cyprus should read Skillen

Readers of this blog know that I think highly of James W. Skillen and his writings. Here is something from the latest issue of the Public Justice Report, articulating the Center for Public Justice's understanding of its own mission, and the limitations of that mission:

We, like many other Americans, wish we had the answers to all questions and could simply declare what is just and unjust in all situations. But that is not the case and never will be. Humans have been called by God to act justly, to govern wisely for the public good, and to be the kind of citizens who give as much attention to the welfare of their civic neighbors as they do to themselves. But what this means in any given policy area cannot be known ahead of time or from outside the arena of public responsibility. Moreover, we are all sinners, often blinded by selfishness and bad judgment.

For these and other reasons, even with the Center's statements of principle we will never claim that the Center is doing or speaking God's will. We claim no more than that we are trying to respond in obedience to God's call to do justice. And we fully expect and hope that others will respond by affirming or challenging the stances we take and the arguments we publish. That is the way to strengthen Christian civic responsibility.

Perhaps the bishops of the Church of Cyprus need to read this and take some lessons about the role of Christians in the political realm.

First lesson: Prudential judgements on concrete political issues are always fallible and should be advanced with humility. The principles undergirding such judgements, e.g., the rule of law, the need to punish crime and protection of the vulnerable, are on a firmer footing. But we will always disagree when it comes to application of these principles.

Second lesson: Ecclesiastical officers are not in the best position, structurally speaking, to make such prudential judgements. To begin with, they lack sufficient information, unlike government policy-makers. But, more seriously, their offices, along with the tasks that go with them, are limited. Clerics properly give voice to the biblical call to do justice. When they start to apply those principles themselves, blessing and anathematizing Christians who agree or disgree respectively, they are pushing the normative bounds of their offices pretty far. Better to have Christians organized separately for political purposes.

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22 April 2004

Pro-natal policies needed?

Here is a story with huge implications for the future but which few are making much of: "Canada's Birthrate Falls to Lowest Since Records Began in 1921." There are, of course, all sorts of legitimate reasons why specific couples may choose fewer children. Yet I wonder whether over the long term we will be forced to re-examine our priorities in light of the coming apparent decline in population. This may prompt a reorientation of government policies as well, particularly with respect to abortion and tax incentives encouraging larger families. We may be made to ask fundamental questions, for example, whether there is a responsibility -- and perhaps even a duty -- to produce the next generation or whether it can simply be left as a matter of personal choice and public indifference.

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21 April 2004

A captive church

In my introductory level course on political ideologies, I admit to my students that, while I can see good in virtually every ideology, I have a blind spot when it comes to nationalism. I have difficulty seeing any good in nationalism, particularly the ethnic variety. This is due to the role Greek nationalism played in dividing the island of Cyprus and making it difficult, if not impossible, for the two ethnic communities to live together. I have argued in my book that Christians, above all people, have resources enabling them to see through the attractions of the secular ideologies. Unfortunately, it is often the followers of Jesus Christ, who ought to know better, who have succumbed to the allures of nationalism.

There are few things that can get my blood boiling more than this sort of story: "Bishop warns ‘yes’ voters will go to hell," from the Cyprus Mail.

Be good and you will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, said Jesus. Vote ‘yes’ in the referendum on the Annan plan on Saturday and you will go to hell – or so says the [exiled] Bishop of Kyrenia.

On Sunday, he warned Greek Cypriots they faced damnation if they approved the UN plan.

"Those who say ‘yes’ will be party to this injustice, will lose their homeland and the kingdom of heavens," Bishop Pavlos said in a sermon on Sunday.

He went on to criticise those politicians who were in favour of the plan, saying “they want to sway the people into adopting their own submissive stance, but the people cannot be fooled”.

As if that weren't enough, Chrysostomos, Bishop of Paphos, is adding fuel to the fire his colleague started:

“I am positive that on May 1 we shall enter the European Union. That which we failed to achieve back in 1955-1959, namely Enosis (union) with the motherland Greece, we shall achieve through EU membership.

“I have invited all freedom fighters of the 1955-59 period to come to the bishopric after mass, at 10 o’clock; the bishopric’s fridges are packed with champagne bottles, and we shall crack them open to celebrate Cyprus’ enosis with Greece.”

The reference to enosis alludes to the long campaign, spearheaded by the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, to unite the island with Greece. After Great Britain gained control of Cyprus in 1878, Cypriots began agitating for London to cede it to the Greek kingdom which had been established half a century earlier. This was part of the Meghali Idhea, or Great Idea, which proposed to unify all Greek Orthodox Christians under a single political rule -- tantamount to a revival of the Byzantine Empire at the expense of the muslim Ottoman Empire. The Church was at the forefront of this effort.

In 1948 the Labour government in Britain offered Cyprus, along with a number of other British-controlled territories, a full measure of self-government short of complete independence. The Church of Cyprus campaigned against this, demanding either enosis or nothing. Needless to say, they received nothing. This has been the strategy of the church ever since. Rather than being a force for peace and reconciliation, the church has blocked any sort of compromise falling short of their ideal notion of hellenic unity. Had Cypriots been more politically savvy and accepted the 1948 proposal, they would have bought themselves some time to come up with a longterm solution to the problem of Cyprus' status -- something that would have been acceptable to the ethnic Turkish minority in the island. In the meantime, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots would have acquired valuable experience in the art of politics, defined by Bernard Crick as the peaceful conciliation of diversity rather than as the use of the coercive power of government to reach for an impossible ideal.

The Church's activities over the last more than half a century have made matters considerably worse for ordinary Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish. Bishops are claiming God's stamp of approval for their own shortsighted aspirations, which someone less charitable than I might be inclined to label blasphemous. The flag of Greece flies outside church buildings and monasteries, in preference to the admittedly pedestrian flag of the Cyprus Republic. A contact in the island reports to me that this has only served to empty the pews of the churches.

The Orthodox Church has not fallen for some of the crazier trends affecting protestant churches, particularly those positioning themselves within the somewhat misnamed mainline. Yet the genuine weakness of the Orthodox Church is precisely its tendency to embrace the various ethnic nationalisms that have so marred the political landscape in the Balkans and elsewhere.

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Public Justice Report

The new issue of the Center for Public Justice's Public Justice Report (2nd quarter, 2004) is now on line. Here are the contents:

James W. Skillen, "Heaven Above and Our Way on Earth"

Mark A. Noll and James W. Skillen, "Religion and American Politics"

James W. Skillen, "Same-Sex 'Marriage' is Not a Civil Right"

"Faith, Jobs, and Social-Service Politics," an interview with Stanley Carlson-Thies and Stephen Lazarus

"Pledge of Allegiance and the First Amendment," excerpts from a brief filed by the Christian Legal Society, the Center for Public Justice and other organizations in the Newdow case currently before the US Supreme Court

James W. Skillen, "Religion, Elections, and the Public Justice Report."

Happy reading.

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20 April 2004

Another boost to your vocabulary

Relativism, n. a variant of ancestor worship.

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Unwise strategy

This is not a smart move by the Canada Family Action Coalition: "Family coalition seeks halt to hate law: Robinson's theft cited by lobby group." If Robinson had proposed a law to protect the unborn, I doubt they would now be arguing against it on the grounds that he is an admitted thief.

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19 April 2004

What's going on? Am I missing something?

For some odd reason I keep seeing all these cars driving around bearing little flags with a white maple leaf on a blue field. Either this has something to do with hockey or they're reopening the four-decade-old flag debate.

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Two federal elections this year?

Will Stephen Harper be forced to relive Joe Clark's 1979 humiliation? Chantal Hébert speculates about the increasing possibility of a hung parliament and a shortlived Conservative minority government: "Election nightmare shapes up for Harper."

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A musical blog?

Well, maybe not. At least not all the time.

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Settling for indefinite warfare

Here is Tamar Mayer on the latest "peace overture" by Bush and Sharon: "A perilous line to be drawing." Writes Mayer:

Territorial homelands, where nations believe they were born, are crucial. They differentiate us from them and here from there. Boundaries that mark national territory, whether real or imagined, are intertwined with identity, collective memory, myths about the nation's creation - and security. To protect the nation's territory, its boundaries must be well defined.

In Israel, this has never been the case. For thousands of years the Jewish nation has had a clear notion that its ancestral homeland is in Zion, but the boundaries of the homeland were never clearly defined - not on the ground and not in the nation's mind. . . .

[T]he United States, Israel and the other signers of the 1993 Oslo Accords were careful not to discuss specific boundaries. They never mentioned directly the 1949-1967 borders, or the Green Line, referring to these areas instead as the West Bank and the Gaza strip. . . .

Now we seem to be on the verge of something more final. While previous U.S. administrations engaged Israel in discussions about withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, the Bush administration appears to support Sharon's settlement policies, his plan to annex parts of the West Bank and his vision of a Greater Israel. . . . The great risk is that with Sharon's new map imposed in perpetuity, the bloodshed will continue in perpetuity as well.

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From China back to Jerusalem

Could 100,000 Chinese Christians complete the evangelization of the globe in our lifetime? Read Mark Earley on "An Army of Worms: Completing the Circuit to Jerusalem." The title of the movement is Back to Jerusalem. Why?

Back to Jerusalem gets its name from the fact that, since Pentecost, the Gospel has primarily spread westward from Jerusalem — first to Europe, then the Americas, then to the Far East. But there is “no firmly established church” among the two billion people in the area from China’s western border back to Christianity’s origination point. So thousands of Chinese Christians sense God nudging them westward to complete the circuit “back to Jerusalem.”

Perhaps Philip Jenkins will see fit to include this effort in a future second edition of The Next Christendom.

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18 April 2004

Sunday of St. Thomas

In the traditional one-year lectionaries in both eastern and western churches, the sunday following Easter is the sunday of St. Thomas. On this day the story of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the disciples, including doubting Thomas, is read from John 20:19-31. In those churches that have moved to a three-year lectionary, the reading of this gospel lesson on the first sunday after the Paschal feast is still maintained.


Orthodox Family Life


Is it unusual that the church should celebrate a famous doubter in its calendar? I don't think so. After all, if Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins, then this would include the sin of actively doubting the reality and efficacy of his redemptive grace.

On this day is often sung the well-known hymn, "O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing," four of whose stanzas run as follows:

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
How they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

“My piercèd side, O Thomas, see;
My hands, My feet, I show to thee;
Not faithless but believing be.”
Alleluia! Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

How blessed are they who have not seen,
And yet whose faith has constant been;
For they eternal life shall win.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Later: Here is a particularly ancient version of "O Filii et Filiae," and here is the midi.

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16 April 2004

A rare bird indeed

Among other things, Tim Roemer has the virtue of being one of a very, very few pro-life Democrats active in the political arena. May there be many more like him in the future.

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Who was it that said. . .

. . . that God allows bad liturgy in his churches so that Christians living in otherwise comfortable circumstances will know first hand what it is to suffer for the cause of Christ?

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15 April 2004

Oh boy, another award

It seems I've been awarded The Byzantine Bow Tie Award for Outstanding Beardedness by Boerishbwoy. Do I get a plaque for this?

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Troubling move by Bush

This will definitely not bring peace to the middle east: "Sharon buoyed by U.S. support." The US has approved Israeli plans to withdraw altogether from Gaza and from four West Bank settlements. But Israel gets to keep much of the West Bank on which some 150,000 Jewish settlers now live.

There are just two problems with this. First, settling occupied territory by citizens of the occupying state is illegal under art. 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The US cannot simply waive its provisions unilaterally for its own policy purposes. Of course, one can envision a scenario in which at least some existing settlements might have to be tolerated under a general peace accord agreed to by all sides. One could argue that this is what Kofi Annan's plan for Cyprus involves. But that plan is being put to a referendum in both sides of the island, where its future is in doubt.

This brings us to the second, and more serious, problem: the Palestinians have not agreed to this and have not even been brought into the process. This has only stiffened the resolve of such groups as Hamas to mount armed resistance. What could Bush and company have been thinking?

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The 9/11 Commission

"Roemer grills Tenet on lack of contact with Bush." I knew Tim Roemer when we were both graduate students at Notre Dame in the early to mid 1980s. He was the Democratic representative of the third congressional district in Indiana throughout the 1990s until his retirement from that position last year. He must be one of the few politicians anywhere to have earned a PhD in political science.

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14 April 2004

Chesterton on the madness of modernity

Gilbert Keith Chesterton is always worth reading. If he weren't so Catholic, he'd be very nearly a neo-Calvinist. Here he is on the trouble with the modern age:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful (Orthodoxy).

One needn't follow Chesterton's negative view of the Reformation, but I do detect in him a certain affinity with the kind of christian antireductionism some of us support on this side of the Tiber.

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Writing award finalist

I have just received word that Political Visions and Illusions has been shortlisted by The Word Guild for its annual Canadian Christian writing awards. Four books have made it to this stage in the category of culture, including Brian C. Stiller, Jesus and Caesar, Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, and Ray Wiseman, A Bridge to the Mountain, in addition to my own. The winners of these awards will be announced on 18 June at the 20th annual Christian writers' conference in Guelph, Ontario.

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The great commission and cultural mandate

A lively exchange about neo-Calvinism has been taking place between Graham Ware and Andrew Vis, with Gideon Strauss (of course) putting in his two cents. One of the issues is the relationship between the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28 ff and the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20. There is a tendency in some circles to play the two off against each other.

A good antidote to this thinking can be found in Paul Marshall, Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God's Creation. Marshall emphasizes that the great commission actually reinforces the cultural mandate:

We can be sure of this commission's success, because Jesus tells us he has authority not only in heaven but on earth as well. And because Jesus has authority over the nations, then the disciples are called to teach the nations to observer all he has commanded. The Great Commission itself includes our tasks in the world. The Great Commission is a calling creation-wide and creation-deep: it calls the nations to obey God.

When men and women turn to Jesus Christ in real, concrete repentance from sin and, by grace through faith, are restored in God's favor, they are called to begin to live out the healing and restoration of Christ's redemption, taking up their Christian responsibility for the direction of human life and culture. Evangelism is, in a way, the recruiting process for this life whereby people are called out for service to God's kingdom. Evangelism calls people to repentance and to love for God. We are called to a new life of service to our neighbors. This is the Christian life (pp. 209-210).

To those who would argue that the cultural mandate somehow detracts from the importance of the great commission, Marshall cogently argues:

Sometimes it seems that our evangelism is about calling people to join an army that consists of nothing but recruiting officers -- people who call other people to join the army. But people should be recruited into the army that is the Church in order to carry out a task beyond mere recruitment (p. 208).

We are, in other words, calling people to membership in a kingdom where there are flesh and blood people living out redeemed lives in ordinary and extraordinary ways. They are engaged in the tasks of farming, manufacturing, trading, rearing children, teaching, learning, writing and reading books, composing and singing music, running foot races and, yes, preaching and hearing the word of God. The kingdom of God consists of life lived in all its fulness in conformity with God's law.

The great commission calls the nations to obedience -- obedience to the cultural mandate given by God at the beginning of creation.

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13 April 2004

Singing his praises

On sunday in church Theresa's junior choir sang with the combined choirs Handel's famous Hallelujah Chorus. For days she had been singing her part around the house and even in the tub the evening before. There's something that touches the heart of a father to hear his five-year-old daughter singing one of the more familiar classics in praise of God.

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A tragic anniversary

This month marks the 800th anniversary of the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Although the Crusade was originally directed at Egypt, the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, succeeded in diverting it to the fabled first City of what was then still known as the Roman Empire. That Christians would prey on other Christians is, of course, nothing less than a scandal. Much of the booty wound up in the Venetian Republic, including the famous bronze horses that had once graced the hippodrome.


Ecumenical Patriarchate

Hagia Sophia, Constantinople


Greeks have long memories and are still bitter over this offence from the west. In fact, 1204 looms much larger in their minds than 1054, the year in which the churches of Rome and Constantinople formally broke ties. Here is one contemporary account from the Greek side by Nicetas Choniates: "The Sack of Constantinople." In 2001 Pope John Paul II visited Athens and issued an historic apology on behalf of his Catholic ancestors for the Fourth Crusade. It is worth noting, however, that even Innocent III, who was Pope at the time, was horrified by the crusade and subsequently excommunicated the crusaders. Furthermore, since the crusaders also attacked the Catholic city of Zara, along the Dalmatian coast, this tragic episode ought not to be portrayed as exclusively a Catholic-Orthodox dispute.

Two decades ago I was privileged to attend an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago titled, "The Treasury of San Marco, Venice." Included was a wealth of Byzantine artefacts from La Serenissima. My enthusiasm at viewing this fantastic collection was tempered by the realization that this was stolen wealth. Nearly a decade earlier I had stood in Venice itself, once a vassal of the Empire but which had broken with it, remaining an independent republic until Napoléon extinguished it in 1797.


Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

San Marco's bronze horses


My genealogical research has revealed that Alexios IV Angelos, the ill-fated Byzantine Emperor who lost his throne just prior to the sack of the City, was variously my 24th, 25th and 27th great grand uncle.

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12 April 2004

Subsidiarity, sphere sovereignty and the CDA

Gideon Strauss was kind enough to translate a key section from the CDA's 1990 research report, Publieke gerechtigheid: Een christen-democratische visie op de rol van de overheid in de samenleving (Public justice: a Christian democratic vision of the role of government in society):

The principle of sphere sovereignty and the idea of subsidiarity can probably not be identified with each other. They give expression to distinct values and it is meaningless to try and hide the differences under the table. But, as has been said before, it is not necessary to identify sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity in the effort to arrive at a consistent vision of government. Each complements and corrects the other. . . . For that reason the CDA has in its very brief history been able to achieve a close, authentic fusion of principles with the common denominator of the responsible society. The idea of subsidiarity borne by Catholic social teaching and the idea of sphere sovereignty current among protestants has been woven together into a view of the person, society, and state in which both dimensions are on a sound footing. The fusion of the two traditions had resulted in a single political philosophy that strives to develop a correct relationship between personal, social, and political responsibilities, taking into account the distinctive value of each of the terrains of life, as these have come to flourish in society (pp. 133-4).

Two decades ago I began writing a dissertation on precisely this topic, comparing the political theories of Herman Dooyeweerd and Yves R. Simon with respect to differentiated authority or responsibility. At the time I was much impressed by the seeming practical convergence between the two concepts in support of what is nowadays known as civil society. My tendency then was to tone down the differences between the two. Since then, however, it's become increasingly apparent to me that subsidiarity is really a federal principle devolving authority to a subordinate body within a larger, more encompassing structure. It is embodied in the tenth amendment of the US Constitution and in the European Union's Maastricht Treaty of 1992. It characterizes the relationship between two entities of the same intrinsic nature. Subsidiarity is less effective in enabling us to differentiate between entities characterized by distinctive structural principles.

This is where Kuyper's sphere sovereignty, particularly as modified and systematized by Dooyeweerd, constitutes an advance over subsidiarity. It enables us to differentiate among different kinds of things without having to locate them within some sort of ontic hierarchy. We need not try arbitrarily to assign higher and lower status to institutional church, state, school, business enterprise or labour union in order to make subsidiarity work. Subsidiarity thus applies well to, say, federal, provincial and municipal governments; sphere sovereignty, or differentiated responsibility, properly applies to, say, government and family.

One wonders whether the CDA is still able to affirm the distinction between subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty. A decade after the merger of the three christian parties, it was still able to do so. Another decade and a half have passed, and much has undoubtedly changed in the Netherlands. Given the huge tide of secularism that swept over the country after the end of the Second World War, it may be that Dutch Christians have enough on their hands to maintain any sort of public witness to their faith at all. Ensuring that the public understands the differences between subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty may seem to some like straining at gnats. Yet much is at stake here, namely, a recognition of diversity in God's world, as opposed to the monistic reductionisms of the various secular ideologies.

Those interested in a more detailed discussion of this issue would do well to read chapter 8 of my book.

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What? No Easter?

I'm still waiting for our stereotypical Old School Presbyterian to let us all know that yesterday was just one more sabbath observance as far as he is concerned.

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Today's vocabulary lesson

Bebop, n. 1. a sophisticated type of jazz developed after the Second World War, employing experimental tonal and rhythmic forms; 2. the name of one of the juvenile dinosaurs in Barney and Friends.

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Church life in need of revival

This is an all too familiar report for those acquainted with the sorry state of church life in the Netherlands: "The Dutch Sea of Secularization: Church in the Netherlands Awaits a Turning Point." Although the report concerns the Catholic Church, a similar trend has affected the protestant churches over the past four decades. Pray that the Holy Spirit will work mightily once again in the Low Countries.

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Did you know. . .

. . . that hymnwriter Fanny Crosby's married name was Van Alstyne?

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Only Marilyn Monroe is missing

After My Big Fat Greek Wedding, what does one do for an encore? Try this: "Wedding girls Vardalos, Collette team up for 'Connie and Carla'." Is it just me, or does this sound like a remake of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot?

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11 April 2004

A 6th century paschal hymn

This morning in church we sang two versions of the same hymn, Salve Festa Dies, by Venantius Fortunatus. These are "Hail Thee, Festival Day," sung to a rousing tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and "Welcome, Happy Morning." Unfortunately we did not sing those two wonderful hymns by St. John of Damascus, "The Day of Resurrection" and "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain," much beloved by Byzantine-rite Calvinists everywhere.

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The Lost Continent: a feline presence

If Robert Sarmast is correct, then cats were kept as pets, not so much by aboriginal Cypriots, as by Atlanteans.

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Anastasis

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Monastery of Chora, Constantinople

Christ is risen from the dead,
by death trampling down death,
and giving life to those within the grave.


From the Orthodox Paschal Liturgy

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10 April 2004

Cypriot 'first nations'

It seems rather amusing that Cyprus should contain the earliest evidence that human beings kept cats as pets, since nowadays throughout the entire Greek-speaking world cats appear to be regarded largely as nuisances. They wander around the neighbourhoods, seemingly belonging to no one, and when people see them they shoo them away. But apparently Cypriots' remote ancestors esteemed cats.

Who were these aboriginal Cypriots? They were probably not Greeks, as the Greeks arrived in Cyprus around 12 centuries before Christ, and people had already been living there for more than 6 thousand years. It seems more likely that their culture was related to those of the Asiatic or African mainlands closest to the island. My wife has suggested to me that, since the Egyptians were known to regard cats as sacred animals, there might have been an ancient connection between the cultures of the Nile and of Cyprus. If Linear A is ever decyphered, it might yield clues as to who the aboriginal inhabitants of Cyprus were.

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What? Is this a joke?

Kim Campbell is one of the 50 greatest leaders in the history of the world? I suppose nearly finishing off Canada's second major political party counts for something. But let's be real.

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Murdered ancestor

One-hundred-thirty-nine years ago yesterday the American Civil War ended and my 3rd great-grandfather, David W. Wells (c 1815-1865), was reputedly murdered. There is more than one account of how this happened. Here is the event as related very briefly by Lucy Jane Bentley Hyder (1875-1948), my great-grandmother:

On the 9th day of April 1865, (the day the surrender was made) during the Civil War my grandfather, David Wells, and my uncle, Hiram Creech, were murdered (shot) by the Raiders of the Ku Klux Klan as they were sometimes called. They first removed his (David Wells') Sunday vest which he was wearing, and then shot him.

A more detailed account is written by Tom Smith, a descendant of Hiram Creech (c 1827-1865), and thus a distant cousin of mine. He appears to have supplemented his account from Lucy Jane's recollections, as found on my own genealogical pages. I have corrected his spelling.

Hiram Creech and at least one of his daughters were visiting family in Lee County, Virginia. On the 9th day of April 1865, the day the Civil War surrender was made, Hiram Creech and his brother-in-law David Wells, were murdered (shot) by Rebel [i.e., Confederate] guerrillas (sometimes referred to as the Raiders of the Ku Klux Klan). They removed Hiram Creech's boots and David Wells' Sunday vest, and then shot them. Hiram's daughter managed to get away. They apparently were sitting on a rail fence when the Rebels approached them. One of the Rebels supposedly had been like a brother to Hiram many years earlier there in Virginia. This is the one that shot him and then took the boots off his feet. From all the traditional stories I conclude this may also have been true. When they saw the Rebels coming, they hid but the Rebels saw them and told them to come out and they would not be harmed. So they came out and climbed up on a rail fence. The Rebels then proceeded to shoot them. Hiram's boots were made by his son, Alexander. After the war Alexander spent some time looking for the man who killed his father.

David Wells and Hiram Creech were married to two sisters, Nancy Jane Elkins (1822-1887) and Mary "Polly" Elkins (1824-1875) respectively.

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Christ's sacrifice

The following hymn, "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," is beloved by generations of Christians grateful for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for their sins. The original Latin text is attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, translated into German by Paul Gerhardt and finally into English by James W. Alexander:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown;
How pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! ’Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.

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09 April 2004

Vote yes on 24 April

The editors of Greece's Kathimerini think Greek Cypriots should vote in favour of the Annan plan, despite its flaws. Could we see a repeat of Canada's Charlottetown Accord fiasco in the island of Aphrodite?

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Important book missing

Conspicuously absent from the bibliography of the Law Commission of Canada's report on electoral reform is Nick Loenen's excellent book, Citizenship and Democracy: A Case for Proportional Representation. How they managed to overlook this I don't know. For a review of this book see "A Call to Reform the Canadian Electoral System," by yours truly.

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Here, kitty, kitty

It seems my Cypriot ancestors were the first people to keep cats as pets more than 9 millennia ago. Makes me sneeze just thinking about it.

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08 April 2004

Electoral reform

This afternoon I received in the mail from the Law Commission of Canada a volume titled, Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada, which is also available online. A perusal of the table of contents indicates that the Commission is asking the right questions about the role of electoral systems in strengthening or weakening democratic governance. It thoroughly investigates the various forms of proportional representation functioning in different political contexts, weighing their respective advantages and disadvantages. The publication of this report is a positive sign from the federal government that it is taking seriously the pressing need for electoral reform in this country.

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07 April 2004

The well dressed student

On this, the last day of class for Political Science 122, the brothers Kuiper wore exceedingly tasteful purple and peach coloured bow ties. It seems my students are learning some fashion sense, in addition to the material in the book and the lectures.

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Woolworth in Cyprus?

When we were in Limassol, Cyprus, in 1995, Nancy and I visited a Woolworth department store there. This was no dime store. It was more like The Bay here in Canada or a Marshall Fields in the US. Whether this ever had any connection to the F. W. Woolworth chain I have no idea. According to the company's website, the first store was opened in 1974, the very year of the troubles leading to the island's partition.

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Cyprus unity dead in the water?

This doesn't look good at all: "Greek Cypriot leader calls UN plan unworkable."

Tassos Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriot president, on Wednesday night delivered a potentially devastating blow to hopes of reuniting Cyprus before it enters the European Union on May 1. In a television address, Mr Papadopoulos rejected the latest United Nations-backed reunification plan as unworkable. . . . His television address appeared likely to harden attitudes among Greek Cypriots who already view the plan unfavourably. An opinion poll due to be published in the Cyprus Weekly on Friday showed that 55.7 per cent of Greek Cypriots oppose the plan, with 12.3 per cent in favour and 32 per cent still undecided.

Further down in the article is a reference to Cyprus' "unreconstructed" communist party, AKEL, which is expected to support the UN plan. Incredibly, the party still boasts a politburo, of all things. Some things never change -- in some places at least.

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06 April 2004

The Dime Store: F. W. Woolworth

When I was growing up in the American heartland, it seemed that every town had a Woolworth's store, part of the F. W. Woolworth chain. My home town of Wheaton, Illinois, had one on Front Street, right across from the railroad station, well into my adolescence. I always thought of it as the principal store downtown, at which virtually everything was available: clothes, house plants, small pets such as parakeets and hamsters, toys, food, and a variety of other items. To the right, as one entered, was one of those big photographing booths, where one would sit inside, wait for the light to flash and, after a few minutes, be presented with a strip of several black and white self-portraits. To the left was the lunch counter, where one could order from the menu a variety of conventional North American dishes. We called it simply the Dime Store. When my mother was growing up, before inflation had taken its toll, it was known as the Five and Dime. When I began receiving an allowance from my parents, I would almost naturally gravitate to the Dime Store to spend it. We even bought each other Christmas gifts there. The ladies who worked there would always eye us children suspiciously, assuming we were all potential shoplifters. I suppose that was simply part of the store's charm.


Hamilton Public Library
The Woolworth's store on King Street, Hamilton, Ontario


Probably the most famous Woolworth store was in Greensboro, North Carolina, where an historic battle was fought in the civil rights struggle in the United States. In 1960 four first-year students at the local polytechnical college sat at the store's whites-only lunch counter requesting service, which was denied. Soon they were joined by others and what started as a small incident turned into a massive sit-in involving some 400 students. The effort was successful in moving increasing numbers of southern cities towards full racial integration.

The Woolworth's in Wheaton closed in the early 1970s, when I was in high school. But there was one in Toronto in the late '70s on Queen Street adjacent to the Eaton Centre. And as late as 1989, my sister and I found one way up in Laurium, Michigan. I wish we had thought to go inside and see what it looked like. Would it have been a carbon-copy of the store in Wheaton a generation earlier? I'll never know.

In many respects, Woolworth was the Wall-Mart of its day, coming into towns and driving smaller, family-owned operations out of business. It is thus somewhat ironic that Wall-Mart helped to end Woolworth's long reign, contributing to its decision to close its remaining stores in 1997. Several years earlier Wall-Mart had purchased the company's Woolco stores in Canada, including the one on Upper James here in Hamilton.

Needless to say, there are no more "dime stores." Now there are dollar stores everywhere, further testimony to the effects of inflation.

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05 April 2004

Evangelical Outpost

I found a reference to this on someone else's blog. I don't know who the author is, but he appears to like my book, which is encouraging news. As for my thoughts on Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, he should check the items in my sidebar. I will almost certainly have more to say about them in the future.

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Hellene on Aberdeen

Just when we had concluded that Aberdeen Street, downtown Hamilton, had become a bastion of Anglophilia and United Empire Loyalist sentiment, we noticed a house on that street yesterday flying a Greek flag out in front. Let's hope they all don't start quarrelling over the Elgin marbles.

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Holding a grudge for half a millennium

"Letter Said to Be From Al Qaeda Threatens Spain." Is this really about Spanish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or is it about 1492?

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Differentiated responsibility, sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity

From Balkenende's speech:

Differentiated responsibility should therefore be the main aim. And that responsibility should be devolved to the lowest possible level. At the same time, the state should be doing what is expected of it.

Might the Dutch Prime Minister be glossing over the differences between the neo-Calvinist principle of sphere sovereignty and the neo-Thomist principle of subsidiarity? My understanding is that, since the late 1970s, when the CDA was being formed, the Dutch gespreide verantwoordelijkheid (differentiated responsibility) has been used to cover both concepts. This would perhaps make sense, given the ecumenical character of the CDA. Neo-Calvinists in the Anglo-Saxon world, however, tend to identify differentiated responsibility with Kuyper's sphere sovereignty only, apparently sensing the etymological similarity with Dooyeweerd's historical norm of differentiation.

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Justice (at last) for consumers

We have recently had a very good experience with the provincial Ministry of Consumer and Business Services after having had a very bad experience with a local carpenter running a business out of his home. In future, of course, we will be more careful whom we do business with. However, if anyone in Ontario encounters a similar problem, the ministry is the place to go. I wouldn't bother with the Better Business Bureau, which relies on the voluntary co-operation of the parties involved and, at least in Hamilton, doesn't seem to answer its own phone.

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Balkenende's other speech

Here is the other speech given by Prime Minister Balkenende at Princeton two weeks ago. This is the Kuyper speech we all heard about.

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04 April 2004

Planetary alignment

Has anyone seen this in the night sky after sunset?

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Still waiting at the door

Will Turkey ever be admitted to the European Union? A new report tabled in the European Parliament indicates that it is a long way from meeting the political criteria for membership.

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You heard it here first

Funny this story didn't turn up in google news. Surely not because it was judged insufficiently newsworthy?

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Palm Sunday


St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church


Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes Hosanna cry;
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die!
O Christ! Thy triumph now begin
Over captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father, on His sapphire throne,
Expects His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy power, and reign.

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03 April 2004

Ebert on The Passion

Roger Ebert, who reviews films for the Chicago Sun-Times, is probably the best-known movie reviewer in North America these days. Here is his take on The Passion of the Christ, which he gives four stars. Although he was raised a Catholic, he no longer seems to identify himself with Christianity. Nevertheless, it is evident from reading his review that he understands the teaching of the gospels concerning the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. Could the faith of this former altar boy one day reclaim a lost son? Something to pray for.

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Conservatism

In the new issue of Comment, Mark Cameron writes perceptively on "The Meaning of Conservatism" in Canada. Noting that conservatives are a diverse and quarrelsome lot, encompassing "democratic populists from Preston Manning's Reform, economic nationalists led by David Orchard, social conservatives allied with Stockwell Day, Red Tories in the mould of Joe Clark, and tax and budget cutters associated with the Harris and Klein governments," he observes that all of these are now having to get along under the organizational umbrella of the new Conservative Party of Canada. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that they will succeed in this.

Could it be that conservatism is fractious and fatally weak because it has so little substantive content and no real vision of its own to bring to the political process? A mere defence of existing institutions and a general scepticism towards proposed reform efforts is all well and good, insofar as it offers a cautionary note to those whose dreams would have them overturning a reasonably good social order because it is not perfect. Yet lacking a solid understanding of the world as God's world, it inevitably tends towards pragmatic rather than principled action, it applies the brakes more easily than it steers the vehicle, and it too easily acquiesces in injustices hallowed by longstanding tradition. Perhaps it's time to abandon the conservative label and move towards a principled affirmation of pluriformity in God's world, including the jural mandate he has given the political authorites to protect this pluriformity.

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02 April 2004

Old at Erskine

I was unable to see Hughes Oliphant Old at Princeton last week, because he's now at Erskine Seminary, South Carolina, where he serves as dean of its new Institute For Reformed Worship. I was told that he was at Erskine, but I thought it was perhaps as visiting scholar. This sounds more like a longterm commitment. Erskine College and Seminary are connected with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

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01 April 2004

Bowtie and all

Someone, it seems, has a sense of humour.

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Cyprus to remain divided?

The prospects for a reunified Cyprus do not look good at the moment: "Divided Cyprus split over UN plan."

In the view of Greek Cypriot refugee Orania this contravenes EU principles and makes Greek Cypriots second class citizens. "After 1 May I will be able to settle anywhere I like in Europe, but I won't have the right to return to the Turkish Cypriot state where I was born," she said. "So why should I vote for it?"

Impatience within the Greek-Cypriot community to have everything they wanted right away led to the current division of the island in the first place. Let's hope and pray that Greek-Cypriots can bring themselves, for once, to accept a less than perfect political arrangement as a place to start -- as the beginning of an ongoing conversation with their Turkish-Cypriot fellow citizens over the future of a united island.

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Wheaton theology conference

Is "evangelical ecclesiology" an oxymoron?

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Dutch names in a non-Dutch church

I was baptized and grew up in a small Presbyterian denomination with a strong Reformed confessional identity. Although Presbyterians tend to have Scottish or English roots, there were a lot of Dutch and Frisian names in my childhood church congregation. Just a few of these: Auwerda, Dykema, Bosgraf (or possibly Bosgraaf), and Brinks. The Brinks family was especially prominent. There were two adult brothers and their families, and their mother, the elderly Mrs. Brinks. Many years later, long after our family had left that congregation, I heard from a member, who had joined in the meantime, that there was a connection between this family and the great Abraham Kuyper. It seems that Mrs. Brinks' long deceased father used to deliver groceries to Kuyper and his family in the old country.

Perhaps these Dutch connections explain why I was so easily able to fit into the Christian Reformed Church and Redeemer University College. That and my wife's apparent lineal descent from William the Silent and Frederick III of the Palatinate.

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A comment on Comment

Yes, it's that time again. A new issue of Comment has been published. Included among the several fine articles is my regular column, ". . . of a Number of Things: Sovereignty Versus Pluriformity," and "Work, meaning, and choice," by Ed Bosveld, one of my protégés from the early years. Happy reading!

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