I have observed two kinds of tyranny in the media and public forum when it comes to moral, religious, or political conflict. The first kind is a tyranny of bigotry which takes firm held beliefs about politics, religion, ethics, etc., and attempts to coerce or shame others into agreement. It disregards the humanity and dignity of those with whom it disagrees. The second kind is a tyranny of tolerance. This tyranny regards “tolerance” as the highest (if not the only) virtue, and then attempts to coerce or shame others into a malleability of all other beliefs besides tolerance. It is as though anything but indifferent relativism is a hate crime.
Each year, the holiday season brings with it many historic traditions, like the red cups at Starbucks, the bad pop Christmas songs playing in every retail store in the country, and the revived rhetoric among certain Christians about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Perhaps you have heard talk of this on the news or seen posts about it in your Facebook feed. I assume the underlying concern is that the removal of any religious references from the holiday might indicate a resistance against or stifling of Christianity in our country. I can appreciate that. But, first, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got multiple holidays happening in tandem rather than one religious holiday being continually corrupted. C.S. Lewis identified three Christmases in his essay “What Christmas Means to Me” from God in the Dock: there’s the “religious festival,” which is “important and obligatory for Christians,” and the “popular holiday,” which is “an occasion for merry-making and hospitality” for many, regardless of religion or background. Lewis calls the third Christmas the “commercial racket” that “has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers.” He elaborates in typical Lewis fashion—smart, concise, funny—if you’re interested in reading the entire essay, but I’ve shared enough to make my present point. Continue reading Have You Kept Christ in Christmas?
Mars Hill Church began as a small gathering in Mark Driscoll’s home in 1996 and soon became one of the fastest-growing churches in the country. But the church that was praised just last year as one of the “Top Churches to Watch in America” has been the subject of much controversy lately, stemming primarily from its hyper-masculine, strongly opinionated founding pastor. The Puget Sound Business Journal recently ran an article stating that there are rumors of Mars Hill declaring bankruptcy (the Puget Sound region of Washington was home to several of the church’s locations). Even if such rumors are false, they are indicative of the dramatic decline in both popularity and organizational stability the church has seen in recent months. On January 1st, 2015, Mars Hill Church will officially dissolve. Continue reading What Can We Learn From the Mars Hill Shutdown?
I often find that, from Sunday to Sunday, I am struck by different moments in our church service. Last week, my husband and I made a short autumn getaway to Vermont (referred to simply as “God’s Country” in our house). On Sunday morning, we stood side by side in a small Russian Orthodox Church outside Montpelier, on what can only be described as the perfect autumn day: the sun was bright; the sky was clear, intense blue; the air cool and fresh. The morning sunlight softly illuminated the smoke from the censor as it gently wafted and curled around the altar table. The deacon took his place facing the altar doors and began reading off prayers, and one in particular struck my heart: Continue reading To Live In Peace and Repentance
Like a cool morning mist, fall is gradually settling on New England. Having been raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s a different and enjoyable experience for me to now live in a place that has proper seasons. In New Mexico, summer lingers until about mid-October. The fall leaves are lovely—mostly golden cottonwoods—and the fall temperatures last until almost Christmas. Winter lasts all of two months, if that, and it starts to feel like spring again in February. Continue reading “The Heights and the Depths:” Considering the Seasons of Life
In my day job, I work as a nanny for three adorable children. The brother-sister twins are almost a year and a half, and their older brother, Sam, is four. I’ve learned some things that I more or less expected to learn after taking this job: how to change a diaper, how to prepare bottles, how to spot from across the room a baby chewing something he’s not supposed to chew. However, I’ve also learned some things that I didn’t expect as much. Continue reading Children, God, and Human Nature: How Being a Nanny is Teaching Me About the Universe
A note from the editor: We’ve been running a little low here at EO, but don’t fear. We’ll be back up to speed at some point in the relatively near future. Apologies to Nick Dalbey, who sent in the below article long enough ago that I had to adjust the first sentence to make it time appropriate. -J.F. Arnold
It’s been well over a month since the Future of Protestantism discussion, and Protestantism is alive and well. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion and the articles that have followed in the wake of the event not because everyone is agreed and divisions healed, but because the posterity of Protestantism is secure so long as these discussions continue.
Despite their obvious disagreements, and the backdrop of what Leithart calls protestant tribalism, the Future of Protestantism event illuminated the best kind of unity protestants can hope for: dialectic community. A dialectic community is framed by discussion, not debate; here, participants are friends, and a vision of the Truth is their only prize.
Unlike a debate, discussions don’t have winners and losers; no one is awarded a prize for the best argument; no one advances to the next round in a tournament bracket. All of the interlocutors in a discussion are friends in pursuit of a common goal: Truth. By means of argument, everyone rallies to whoever strikes a clearer path on the journey towards that goal.
As the pursuit of Truth, a good discussion will also inspire the interlocutors to virtue. Participation in a discussion requires rigorous discipline of the intellect and passions; it also requires that you desire the good for your friends as much as you desire it for yourself. It is by the help of your friends that you’ll discover whether your argument is the path toward Truth; and it is only with friends that you’ll ward off loneliness and the temptation to quit.
Disagreement, then, is essential to a dialectic community because it keeps people honest about what they think and, when done in friendship, spurs them on to virtue and to Truth.
John Calvin himself, in a similar vein, argues for this kind of accountability when inquiring into any area of theology.
In his Institutes, Calvin argues that personal virtue should not be separated from knowledge. Especially in theology where God is the subject of our search, Calvin argues that “…our knowledge should serve first to teach us fear and reverence.” Knowledge implies a particular kind of relationship between the knower and the known. In contrast to the popular phrase “knowledge is power”, Calvin suggests the opposite. Fear and reverence are a humble access point by which we can recognize God when we see Him. Similarly, these feelings of fear and reverence will naturally arise, as we better understand our sinfulness in light of God’s holiness.
Later, in the same passage, Calvin takes this thought one step further: “…the pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself…It thus recognizes God because it knows that he governs all things; and trusts that he is its guide and protector, therefore giving itself over completely to trust in him.”
Piety is the recognition of God as the fountainhead of all goodness, and it is the mark of a pious soul that clings to God out of gratitude and trust. As a result, the reward for the pious mind is not the accolades of winning an argument, or proving itself superior, but the knowledge of God Himself.
Fear, reverence, and piety are the building blocks for the Protestant Church’s way forward in the years to come. Discussions, not debates, I think will be our greatest asset in this endeavor for unity in the midst of disagreements. Arguments will come and go, but for posterity’s sake, it’s not enough to be “right,” we have to be good too. Scripture itself, exhorts us to nothing less:
“Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
In the future, I hope to see Catholic and Orthodox Christians represented in such discussions. Diversity will only serve the dialectic community in its pursuits, and perhaps bring about a glimpse of the kind of unity we will experience in heaven.
Links of FoP Reviews
“And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” — Luke 1:28
Author and podcaster Michael Hyatt, a former Protestant and current deacon in the Orthodox Church, states in one of his podcasts* that in Protestantism, Mary is “eerily absent.”
“I don’t think I ever heard, as a Protestant, a single sermon about Mary,” he says. Outside of the Christmas narrative, Mary is not talked about much. Having been raised in the Evangelical church, this was certainly true of my experience. If Mary was ever discussed in my Sunday School classes or from the pulpit, it was to emphasize how normal she is — presumably as a way to distance themselves from Catholicism, the churches I grew up in presented Mary as just like the rest of us. That’s the impression I was left with, at least.
It’s true that Mary is not divine like God, and she should not be worshipped or thought of as such. Redemption and salvation come only from Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot benefit spiritually from a proper understanding of his mother. To diminish or even dismiss Mary — also referred to as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”), among other titles — is to miss out on some deep and incredible theological realities about God, humanity, and womanhood.
Now, there is truth to the sentiment that Mary is just like us: she is a human being in need of a savior just as much as anyone else, a fact she herself acknowledges (Luke 1:47). But she is an example for all Christians because she fully submits to and obeys God. In fact, her humanity makes her actions and responses to her circumstances all the more outstanding and inspiring.
Dn. Michael calls Mary the “prototypic Christian” because her humility and acceptance of God’s will for her life is a model for us all. Her humility, he says, “is a huge shift…from the way we think about ourselves as Americans in the twenty-first century. We think we’re entitled. We deserve better. And even as Christians we sometimes think that…why didn’t I get a different life? Why didn’t I get an easier life?…But not Mary.”
After hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, Dn. Michael points out that Mary calls herself the maidservant of the Lord, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) “She knows who she is and she’s content to obey,” explains Dn. Michael. “And she puts herself fully at the mercy of God’s word.” This is central to Mary’s significance to Christianity; Dn. Michael continues, “To me, whatever else Mary is for us as the Theotokos, she’s also the proto-Christian. The first Christian. The best example of what it means to receive Christ, not just with lipservice, but in our hearts, and to abandon ourselves completely to God.”
Further, we learn from her words in the Magnificat that “[Mary] begins with God…in verse forty-six: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ (Luke 1:46) This is the essential feature of Mary’s life. This is why she is the protoypic Christian. This is why she’s a worthy example for all of us…Mary understands: it’s not about her…it’s about [Christ].” Mary demonstrates the proper Christian posture toward God: one that is marked by humility, acceptance of God’s will, and Christ-centeredness.
Another important reason we should care about Mary is that through her, womanhood, motherhood, and unborn life are redeemed and sanctified.
Christ redeems all of humanity. There seems to be, though, a special redemption given to women through the Mother of God. What does it say about God that the way he chose to redeem humanity was to become human, and the way he chose to become human was to be carried by and born of a human woman? God chose to be born and to have a mother who nursed and nurtured and raised him. This says that God values and esteems unborn life, women, and motherhood.
Through Mary, womanhood was redeemed: as Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed. Through Mary, childbirth and motherhood were redeemed: as Eve was cursed to bear children in pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16), Mary was blessed to bring forth Christ and to be the vehicle of salvation and life. Christ is the second Adam. Mary has been called the second Eve.
Abortion is, to say the least, a tragedy for the unborn children who lose their lives, but it is also a tragedy for the women who lose or even willfully deny a part of themselves that is, in a way, divine. I am not suggesting that women who don’t bear children have an incomplete or lesser identity, but generally (and biologically) speaking, childbearing and motherhood are uniquely female things, and they therefore are part of the female identity. Because Christ was conceived and born and has a mother, the ability to conceive and bear children and the role of mother will forever be linked with the incarnation. Just as dismissing Mary is to dismiss a rich aspect of Christian theology (of which I’ve really only scratched the surface here), dismissing childbearing and motherhood is to dismiss a deep and sacred aspect of what it means to be a woman as well as what it means to be human.
“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” — Luke 1:41-42
*quotations are taken from episodes of At the Intersection of East and West, a podcast of Ancient Faith Radio. The episodes quoted here are “Mary — The Prequel,” “Mary — The Annunciation,” and “Mary Meets Elizabeth.”
“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.” — Ecclesiastes 5:10
I think Americans are generally uncomfortable with limits. Ours is a consumeristic culture: we want unlimited options; we want what we want, when we want it, and for the cheapest price possible.
We apply this consumeristic mindset to other aspects of life, too. We want to have accomplished careers and idyllic family lives. We want the promotion with the corner office and the healthy marriage, comfortable home, and well-adjusted children (of which we want one boy and one girl, of course, so that we don’t miss out on raising either gender). And, just as we have a list that guides us in the grocery store, when we act as consumers of life itself, it feels like our lives become ruled by an invisible checklist: impressive job title? Check. Spouse and kids? Check. Three-bedroom house? Check. Vacation condo in Florida? Check.
Of course, having any or all of those things is not inherently destructive. It’s good to believe in ourselves, follow our passions, and try to do something meaningful and fulfilling with our lives.
There is danger, however, when completing the invisible checklist becomes the endgame. It’s harmful when the checklist weighs so heavily over our lives that our goals and desires overshadow what we have in the present. This kind of thinking is easy to slip into: “Once I finally get [blank], then I’ll be happy,” or “I’ll know I’ve really made it when I finally [blank].” I often lose sight of the good things God has given me here and now by fretting over what someone else has (or appears to have, from my biased and limited perspective), and the only real result of that is more anxiety and dissatisfaction. It is idolatry: I worship achievements, experiences, and myself. I expect these things to make me happy and whole. I know this, but I do it anyway.
Maybe life isn’t all about “having it all.” There’s a quote from a Maurice Sendak book that goes, “There must be more to life than having everything.”
There must be more to life than having everything.
I don’t know about you, but I feel so relieved when I read those words. It’s such a refreshing thought that life is more than a checklist of accomplishments and milestones we must collect like trophies. Life is more than an increasingly exhausting “race to the top” or the next thing we want to say we’ve done, to somehow prove that we are valuable, capable, and satisfied (to others or to ourselves).
Maybe we should make our lives more about giving and less about having—more about serving and less about achieving. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not things or relationships in my life are making me happy. Instead, I should focus on what I can do to make those relationships stronger and healthier. Maybe instead of worrying that others are living better lives than I am, I should focus on how I can best love others.
Maybe I won’t visit all the places I hope to visit. Maybe I won’t get my “dream job.” Maybe I won’t live in the hippest city or have just as many kids as I want. Maybe I won’t ever publish a book.
And maybe I will get some of those things, or even all of them.
But I’m certain that my life will be emptier if those are the things I care most about, because really, all of those things translate into one primary concern: myself.
So instead of living life based on an obscure list of accolades that I think will make me happy or prove my value, I must embrace the life that I have and focus on grounding it in the God who created me and you and all things, the God who always loves us and keeps watch for our return, whether we have strayed for a few minutes or for many years. And maybe he has something in mind for all of us that’s better, more rewarding, and certainly more sanctifying than anything we could possibly think of to put on a checklist.
Comedy is usually thought of as beneficial but not necessarily significant or essential. However, there is actually a structure and significance to humor as seen in comedic pieces. For instance, during comedic movies, many times the events are going decently well but in time they begin to devolve and become somewhat tragic, that is until the arrival of the comedic turn. The comedic turn is what serves as the axis which turns tragedy on its head and the once sorrowful story suddenly becomes joyful and hopeful. In light of the structure behind comedy, it may play a larger role than initially believed.
The important role that comedy plays is to inject hope through a greater understanding of truth. In Harry Potter, students encounter a Boggart, a creature that attacks them in the form of their worst fear. One would think students would be taught a deadly, powerful spell to defeat the Boggart but instead they are taught to use the spell, “Riddikulus” which turns the Boggart into something humorous. Through their laughter, the students learn that the opponent they face is not indestructible but ultimately conquerable. The transformation of approach from terror to humor stems from understanding this truth and allows them to then laugh from an assurance of victory.
For Christians, we are able to similarly fight our enemy with laughter from the same hope of victory. Our hope stems from the unique comedic turn of Christ, the axis that turns tragedy into joy. Raskin, a distinguished professor of linguistics at Purdue, explains the link between the comedic turn and humor stating it comes from, “the idea is that every joke is based on a juxtaposition of two scripts. The punch line triggers the switch from one script to the other. It is a universal theory.” In the biblical story, there exists the two scripts: the present fallen world and the future perfect world. When Christ came, died, and rose again, he was the punch line that triggered the switch from the fallen world and bridged the gap to the perfect world.
Christ’s life and death was a miraculous act that suddenly and irreversibly altered the fight against sin. The fight against a once seemingly formidable enemy becomes a fight filled with the joy and laughter that accompanies ultimate victory. The consolation of a happy ending is labeled by Tolkien as the Eucatastrophe, “the consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn.” As a result of Christ’s life and death, we are able to fight against our enemy without total anxiety or fear. If Satan is our Boggart, Jesus is the “Riddikulus” which allows us to claim our assurance of victory. Because of Christ, we are able to recognize the ridiculousness attempt of Satan to rule and can wage war against us. This joy found in the fight against Satan does not trivialize or underestimate the battle but rather esteems the miraculous turn created by Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.
We will face obstacles and struggles in the present world since Christ’s Eucatastrophe has not come to its full effect, but this does not mean His actions lack present effect. The underlying quality of the Eucatastrophe is,“It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’” While the Gospel’s Eucatastrophe creates a perfect hope for the future, it has the ability to deeply affect our present spiritual struggles by removing fear or anxiety in the midst of battle.