31 October 2009

22 October 2009

Late October snippets

  • The first and last President of the Soviet Union has spoken out on the poor health of Russian democracy: Kremlin rigged Russia’s regional elections, says Mikhail Gorbachev. He's not the only one: "The leader of the opposition liberal Yabloko party, which failed to win any seats, complained that even his own vote had been stolen. Sergei Mitrokhin voted for his party at his Moscow polling station — but Yabloko had, apparently, received no votes when the district election committee published the station’s results."

  • My employer, Redeemer University College, has once again earned high marks in The Globe and Mail's annual university report card. Surprisingly, Redeemer was given a D for campus pubs/bars, when we certainly should have got an F. One of my colleagues came up with a plausible explanation: "the students who hide 6 packs of beer in their dorm toilet tanks saved us from the F rating (as well as the faculty and staff who keep a bottle for medicinal purposes in their bottom desk drawer)." Great. Now I'll have to move mine to the top drawer.

  • This will anger many Quebeckers including the province's government: Top court strikes down Quebec English school law. Premier Jean Charest might have liked to invoke section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the so-called Notwithstanding Clause, to get around this ruling and to placate francophone opinion, but the clause does not apply to section 23, which covers minority language educational rights. Could this boost the popularity of the separatist Parti québécois and its leader Pauline Marois? The quietly simmering national unity issue looks set to heat up to a boil once again.

  • A group of former evangelicals who became Orthodox more than two decades ago appear to have started a trend, if this report is any indication: More Protestants Find a Home in the Orthodox Antioch Church. Many will be startled to learn that "some 70 percent of Antiochian Orthodox priests in the United States are converts." This may make the Antiochian Church the least ethnocentric of the several overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions in North America.

  • In addition to the several eastern-rite Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome, Pope Benedict XVI appears to have opened the door to the formation of an Anglican-rite Catholic church. Fr. Raymond de Souza is pleased. Yet not everyone is keen on the offer: Ottawa Anglicans reject Pope's offer. From what I know of it, St. George's Church is probably closer to the evangelical than to the anglo-catholic wing of Anglicanism. Yet one group that will almost certainly take advantage of the Pope's offer is the Traditional Anglican Communion.

  • The defective theology in this song would appear to prove conclusively what many of us long suspected: that lyricist Hal David is at least a semi-pelagian, if not a full pelagian:

  • Nurtured on the Word

    This is crossposted with First Things' Evangel blog:

    Some Christians accept without reservation the teachings of their church, including the status of Scripture as the Word of God, but they nevertheless seldom read it and consequently do not know it very well. This is definitely not true of most evangelicals, who from an early age are taught to read and love the Bible. And even to collect bibles! As an adolescent I once went through our family home and counted all the bibles I could manage to locate, including those in Greek. (My parents had had a bible school education and my father had grown up speaking modern Greek.) When I had finished counting, I was astonished to discover that among the eight of us we owned more than 80 copies of the Bible! Our own experience was obviously quite different from those households that may own but a single copy gathering dust on one of the upper shelves of the home library.

    I am part of the last generation to grow up with the King James version, although other translations were beginning to be published at the time. I recall with special fondness my mother reading to us from J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament, whose fresh and colloquial renderings made God’s Word come alive for us children. Nevertheless, when we undertook to memorize passages from the Bible, as we were taught to do in sunday school, the KJV still held sway.

    It was in sunday school and church that we learned that the Bible is not merely a collection of legal codes, genealogies, moral advice and wise observations about life. Nor is it a series of episodic vignettes from the national experience of a people distant from us in both time and place. Rather, the Bible is a grand story covering the entirety of history from beginning to end, from creation through the fall into sin, to redemption in Jesus Christ, up to the final consummation of his everlasting kingdom, as recounted in the Revelation. This was our own story, and we identified with the foibles and struggles of persons who lived long ago, but whose lives and actions vividly manifested God’s mighty acts in history, culminating in the sending of Jesus into the world.

    The late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin writes that Christians are those who indwell the biblical narrative, who make it their own and find their place within it. This indwelling conditions everything they do, in the full array of their life’s responsibilities. Furthermore, it is incompatible with finding one’s place in another pseudo-redemptive narrative, whether it be the liberal expectation of a progressive expansion of freedom or the Marxian expectation of a classless society. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

    Those of us who grew up steeped in Scripture early came to love it. Its world is intimately familiar to us and its worldview is not the least foreign to our apparently modern sensibilities. For myself this love has worked itself out in my praying a simple form of the Daily Office throughout the past 30 years and in singing the Psalms, about which I will have more to say in the near future.

    20 October 2009

    Political science?

    This question is being asked of my own academic discipline: Field Study: Just How Relevant Is Political Science? The issues raised in the linked article are familiar to insiders, of course, but it's good that others become aware of them as well. I have one quibble with the University of Michigan's Arthur Lupia, whom author Patricia Cohen cites: "Political science can also help determine what institutions and arrangements are needed to help a dictatorship make the transition to a democracy . . . ." There is some truth to this, of course, but it raises a further question: Which deep-seated traditions are needed to support such proposed institutions and arrangements? Political science may be competent to propose favourable institutional arrangements, but it is utterly unable to establish pre-existing cultural mores capable of supporting them.

    19 October 2009

    First Things: Evangel

    As of this week I am one of the bloggers at First Things' new blog, Evangel. My first contribution was posted this morning: A confessional core versus pragmatism. Feel free to join the conversation.

    17 October 2009


    I must admit that autumn is my least favourite season, primarily because the daylight hours are noticeably shortening and the nighttime lengthening. However, listening to this great song by the incomparable Nat King Cole makes the season almost bearable.

    More: As most of my readers are on the younger side, they likely do not remember the old 45-RPM vinyl records, which had a hit song on one side and another, less popular song by the same artist on the other. Yet my generation grew up with these. The very first one I owned was of Nat King Cole singing Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer. To be sure, it's not one of his better pieces, but it was cheerful and catchy enough to appeal to a 6-year-old. He died – a few weeks short of my tenth birthday – of the lung cancer that came from years of smoking. He was only 45. I recall a feeling of sadness at hearing the news.

    Here is the great jazz musician once more with another song devoted to the season:

    14 October 2009

    Worshipping together

    In the churches in which I grew up sunday school for every age always preceded the church service proper. The small children continued with a separate children's church up to the beginning of school age, at which point they joined their families for "big people's church." However, since coming to Canada I have not seen this pattern, which seems unfamiliar to the people I know. Generally adults and children worship separately, sometimes even into adolescence when they ought to be assuming their places in an adult world.

    Betsy Hart addresses this issue in an article very much worth reading and pondering: Why send young away during church services? Here's Hart:

    [T]he belief seems to be that it’s more likely kids will stick with church over their lifetime if it’s more geared to them when they are young. But the evidence is that this isn’t what happens.

    Two decades ago, Christian education expert James W. Write showed in his book, Intergenerational Religious Education (Religious Education Press), that studies reveal that children who worship regularly with their parents are more likely to consistently worship as adults than children who grow up primarily attending “children’s church.”

    I have not infrequently wondered whether the lower rate of church attendance in this country relative to that in the US might have something to do with breaking up families on sunday mornings rather than keeping them together, which is the pattern I grew up with. There is undoubtedly more than one causal factor at work here, but keeping our older children in church with us has to be a step in the right direction.

    13 October 2009

    Back to the future?

    Is the troubled Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland being sabotaged from the future? Strange to say, but some in the know are taking this possibility seriously: The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate.

    12 October 2009

    Drakensberg Boys Choir

    On this Thanksgiving Day there is much for which to give thanks, but I would like to offer special thanks for the remarkable Drakensberg Boys Choir from South Africa, whose repertoire runs the gamut from western classical to African traditional. Here are two fine performances below:

    10 October 2009

    Unexpected climate change

    This BBC report on the global cooling trend since 1998 is likely to add more heat to the arguments on climate change: What happened to global warming? Nevertheless, even if the sceptics are correct, this should never be used as an excuse to relax our ongoing efforts to protect the physical environment. As for the proponents of the global warming thesis, they would be unwise to hang their efforts at reducing the production of greenhouse gases on this theory alone. Should they do so, they risk incurring a backlash from the public, which could set back the cause of environmental protection.

    09 October 2009

    Nobel surprise

    This is unexpected and almost certainly premature: Obama 'humbled' by Nobel Peace Prize win. Surely it would have been better to wait until the man had some concrete achievements to show in this area? On the other hand, it may be that the Nobel committee is elated at the passing of the Bush presidency and simply overreacted.

    01 October 2009

    October snippets

  • Three decades later George Perlin's Tory Syndrome has become the "Grit Syndrome" as Canada's Liberal Party continues to implode under Michael Ignatieff's leadership: Liberal rift hurting party, insiders say. Ignatieff's threats to pull the plug on Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government suddenly look less formidable than before. Next election? My guess is 2010 or later, unless Ignatieff has a death wish.

  • Joseph Farah comments on Obama's Judenrein speech. By opposing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, Obama is advocating "ethnic cleansing," as Farah sees it. Here's Farah: "I believe Israel – all of Israel – belongs to the Jews. By definition, it is a Jewish homeland. Unlike its enemies, Israel has always embraced non-Jews within its borders – extending to them full citizenship rights including representation in its legislature." How does this differ from the proposed solution of many Palestinians that the territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean should be a multi-ethnic democracy? Would Farah agree with Jimmy Carter's proposal? Would not a greater Israel in which all residents had rights of citizenship not eventually lead to Jews becoming a minority in their own state? Someone needs to connect the dots for Farah.

  • Almost 25 years ago I subscribed briefly to the journal of the Mercersburg Society, to which I have paid insufficient attention since. The Mercersburg movement was named for Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where the German Reformed Church in the United States had its seminary in the middle of the 19th century. Two of its faculty, John Williamson Nevin and church historian Philip Schaff, spearheaded an effort within that denomination to recover something of the catholic roots of the Reformed churches, emphasizing, among other things, the place of the institutional church and its means of grace in the lives of believers, the "mystical presence" of Christ in the Lord's Supper, and the need for a prescribed liturgy rooted in the ancient patterns of worship. Contemporary evangelicals need to familiarize themselves with Mercersburg, a school that stands in contrast to the revivalist strain that has dominated their movement since the turn of the 19th century.

  • The health care debate south of the border is bringing out ugly rhetoric on both sides of the partisan aisle. A Democratic Congressman is charging Republicans with wanting Americans to "die quickly" should they become ill. Republican Sarah Palin recently accused Democrats of wishing to set up "death panels" in connection with the President's proposed health care plan. When in doubt about such claims, it it is always best to seek out one of the many websites devoted to determining the truth, such as factcheck.org. It usually turns out that neither side cringes at creatively crafting its own credibility construct.

  • Canada's most prominent imprisoned expat recounts his faith pilgrimage: How I woke up from spiritual slumber and inched at a snail’s pace to Rome, which is excerpted in the National Post. A few surprises are to be found here: First, Lord Black was attracted by the impressive but now vastly diminished edifice of Québec Catholicism, that "endearing blend of idealism and cynicism." Second, John Wesley would be bemused to learn that he was a follower of John Calvin. Third and finally, despite Black's confession, Christians believe considerably more than that "Christ was divinely inspired." There are those little matters of the Incarnation and the Trinity which seem to have escaped him.

  • This is an intriguing development that bears watching: The steady rise of Islamic finance. My question is: what is the difference between rent and interest? Is the islamic mortgage really all that different from its western counterpart?
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