09 February 2009

February snippets

  • The most recent issue of catapult magazine is devoted to empire, a term much in use these days in some christian circles. Here is my own response: Reconsidering empire.

  • My review of Philip Jenkins' Lost History of Christianity was recently published in Christian History: A Forgotten Golden Age. OrthodoxyToday.org picked up my review and posted it on its own website. Christianity Today's David Neff blogs on Jenkins' book here. It's settled then: Jenkins' writings are not to be missed.

  • Speaking of whom, Jenkins has recently penned an intriguing piece comparing the current economic state of the US with a once-prosperous South American country: United States of Argentina: How inflation turned a rising power into a pauper. Here's Jenkins:
    From the 1880s, Argentina was, alongside the U.S. itself, a prime destination for European migrants. Buenos Aires was one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, in a select club that included London, Paris, Berlin, and New York City. Argentina benefited mightily from foreign investment, which it used wisely to create a strong infrastructure and an excellent system of free mass education. It had the largest and most prosperous middle class in Latin America. When World War I began, Argentina was the world’s tenth wealthiest nation.
    So what happened? Read and find out. If Jenkins is right, Argentina provides a counterexample for those who insist on believing, along with Marx and many others, that economics drives politics.

  • Probably the book I've read the most number of times over the years is H. Richard Niebuhr's classic 1951 book, Christ and Culture. I first read it as an undergraduate and, like so many others, found its five typologies helpful in understanding the historic ways Christians have approached the larger culture. Now the prolific Donald A. Carson has written a trenchant critique, Christ and Culture Revisited, on which I will have more to say in the near future. At this point I will only indicate that Carson's starting point is sound: the canonical unity of Scripture as understood from a redemptive-historical standpoint.

  • It is little known that Niebuhr's typologies were to some extent anticipated by the Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck half a century or so earlier. For a good summary of his approach, see Jan Veenhof, Nature and Grace in Herman Bavinck (also available here). Might Niebuhr have read Bavinck?

  • What will be the fate of George W. Bush's faith-based initiative under the new administration? The sticking point is whether government funds should be allocated to confessionally-based organizations that hire only those committed to their foundational vision. Though some call this discrimination and want to eliminate it, doing so would, of course, threaten the religious identities of such groups. John J. DiIulio, Jr., weighs in on the matter: Obama and the Faith-Based Initiative. DiIulio was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and is thus well-positioned to offer an assessment.

  • My friend Stanley Carlson-Thies, who worked alongside DiIulio in 2001-2, has recently begun the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, which "works to safeguard the religious identity, faith-based standards and practices, and faith-shaped services of faith-based organizations across the range of service sectors and religions, enabling them to make their distinctive and best contributions to the common good." I wish him well in this new endeavour and hope the group's website is up and running soon. In the meantime, further information can be had by contacting the following address: info[at]irfAlliance[dot]org.

  • At evening prayer I've been making my way through the book of I Samuel, which records the establishment of the united Israelite monarchy under Saul and David. The editors of the Bible I'm using trace at least two authorial sources in the narrative, an "Early Source" and a "Late Source." The Early Source is said to be largely positive towards the monarchy, while the Late Source is more negative. It is, of course, possible that more than one hand is responsible for the book, but it is just as likely that a single author would have been capable of understanding that the monarchy was a mixed blessing at best, possessing, like every other human institution, its good and bad sides. Why this latter possibility is excluded so easily by some is not altogether clear. Nevertheless, the contributions of biblical criticism are now being applied to other texts with remarkably fruitful results. For example: New Directions in Pooh Studies: Überlieferungs- und religionsgeschichtliche Studien zum Pu-Buch.

  • I am grateful to know that Casey Bessette has been reading my book. He may not be aware that its author was baptized in the church he serves, Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, when it was located in Westchester, Illinois, just over half a century ago.
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