Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 August 2011

August snippets

  • The second half of the 20th century saw a dramatic proliferation of Bible translations, especially in English. It may not be much of an exaggeration to observe that one man fuelled this growth: Eugene Nida, Who Revolutionized Bible Translations, Dead at 96. The Good News Bible and its successors were obvious examples of his influence, but even the New International Version bore his imprint. I am of two minds concerning Nida's legacy. On the one hand, there is no doubt that easier-to-read Bible translations have brought to life God's word for the last two generations of Christians and seekers alike. At the same time, some translations have effectively obscured the peculiarities of the ancient cultures, discarding some metaphors (e.g., "to know" as a synonym for sexual relations) that perhaps ought to have been explained in footnotes rather than replaced by contemporary idioms in the text itself. I am somewhat sympathetic with the views expressed here by Raymond Van Leeuwen a decade ago: We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation.

  • Writing for The New York Times, Ross Douthat has poked holes in a recent New Yorker piece by Ryan Lizza connecting a well-known evangelist and "dominionism": The New Yorker and Francis Schaeffer. I am not one of those who was influenced by Schaeffer, but I personally know many people who were and who found direction for their lives through his ministry at the l'Abri communities. And not one of them, as far as I know, has tried to overthrow the US government.

  • This is from the National Geographic Society: 18th-Century Ship Found Under 9/11 Site. "Others have also suggested that the ship—which was likely deliberately sunk—may have done duty as a British troop carrier during the Revolutionary War." Contemporary New Yorkers may have forgotten that their city was a bastion of loyalty to the Crown during what is probably better called the war for American independence.

  • Over at my Genevan Psalter blog, I have now reached the halfway point in my thus far 25-year effort to set to verse the biblical Psalms, with fresh metrical versifications of Psalms 127 and 122. I also call attention to two compelling renditions of the Psalms by a group styling themselves Brother Down: Psalm 13 and Psalm 75. Yes, these are the Genevan tunes! Here is more from Douglas Wilson: Psalm Off Results. "Canon Press is now negotiating with the band Brother Down in Santa Cruz in hopes of releasing an album of Reformation-era psalms, all done in their distinctive style." It seems we have something to look forward to.

  • Who was H. Evan Runner? A Calvin College philosopher who had considerably more impact on the North American christian university scene than the relative paucity of his academic writings might otherwise indicate. Read about him here: The Importance of H. Evan Runner Although I did not know him well, Runner was nevertheless something of a spiritual and intellectual grandfather to me, as I was taught by a number of his students at a crucial stage in my own pilgrimage.

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    24 August 2011

    Holy smokes!

    Tobacco use has never been a temptation for me and I certainly would not advise anyone else to take up the habit. However, it seems there is a relationship between widespread availability of Bibles and cigarette use unknown to most of us. J. Mark Bertrand reports on the connection: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em?

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    09 August 2011

    Mark O. Hatfield (1922-2011)

    As a young Christian trying to sort out the relationship between my faith in Jesus Christ and the political landscape, Senator Mark O. Hatfield was one of my heroes. I was privileged to hear him speak at a church in Minneapolis back in 1975, and I was favourably impressed. Here are two retrospectives on Hatfield's life and witness within the political realm, coming from opposite sides of the political aisle: Cal Thomas: A Conservative Remembers Mark Hatfield; and Wesley Granberg-Michaelson: A Tribute to Mark O. Hatfield. This is from my own Political Visions and Illusions (pp. 148-149):
    U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon enjoyed a long political career extending over nearly half a century, although many of the positions he took on specific issues were quite controversial, especially his early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam. Hatfield explicitly claimed to vote in accordance with his convictions whether or not his constituents always agreed. Nevertheless, Oregon voters continually re-elected him, twice as state Governor and five times as Senator, not because he followed their wishes, but because he acted on principle and in so doing earned their continued respect. Refusing to bow the knee to the god of popular sovereignty is not necessarily a recipe for political failure. On the contrary, many citizens prefer to vote for someone willing to stand on principle.

    May Senator Hatfield rest in peace until the resurrection and may the LORD see fit to raise up principled statesmen and stateswomen in his place.

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    05 August 2011

    Church decline across the pond

    Many North American Christians have been influenced by the remarkable political and social witness of the great Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands. I am pleased to count myself among them. Thus it saddens me to read the following BBC report: Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world.
    An imposing figure in black robes and white clerical collar, Mr Hendrikse presides over the Sunday service at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central Holland. It is part of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church, and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord's Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse's sermon seems bleak - "Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get". "Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death," Mr Hendrikse says. "No, for me our life, our task, is before death."

    Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing. "When it happens, it happens down to earth, between you and me, between people, that's where it can happen. God is not a being at all... it's a word for experience, or human experience."

    Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible's account of Jesus's life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.

    Much as a vibrant Puritanism had turned to unitarianism within a century of the settlement of New England, so has Kuyper's Gereformeerd community been largely assimilated into the Dutch mainline Protestantse Kerk, which, though pockets of vitality definitely exist within it, is far from being a confessional church.

    However, the story is not over, and signs were already present four years ago that secularism in the Netherlands may be running its course. This Weekly Standard article is cause for hope: Holland's Post-Secular Future. Whenever we are tempted to despair over the apparent progress of secularism, we need only recall that ultimately it cannot satisfy. As St. Augustine put it so well, our hearts are restless until they find rest in the One who alone can provide it.

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