A career out of criticizing your parents

Seems like this is pretty much what Frank Schaeffer has done. Here’s an article on it.

If a man will take his family to task publicly in this way, I think I know pretty much all I need to know about the man. It’s not like his father was Eichmann or Goebbels. His father took some controversial and conservative stands. But it was all within the pale.

It is true that Francis Schaeffer, IMHO, got a little bit too close to the edge for my tastes. Once I saw portions of his two films, I began to move away. He was a hero of mine in college. His books kept me sane as I took philosophy courses and debated theism and Christianity with my professors and fellow students, particularly his book Escape from Reason.

But then Schaeffer began to do what we all tend to do when the debate gets hot. He took the angle against his opponents, “if you believe this then you will also believe and do this” even if his opponents had demonstrated no such inclination. If someone was pro-abortion, then it would follow that they must ipso facto be supporters of eugenics and inclined to statism. Well, maybe there is some consistency in trajectory here. But the person does need to commit the crime before we arrest him.

Soon Schaeffer began to cordon off the church from the public square as a worthy debating partner. There was an incipient paranoia and suspicion that set up churches for conflict and hostility to the host culture. Schaeffer had been a way to engage culture and foster debate. Now it was all war. Well, maybe that was appropriate, but I didn’t think so at the time. I still don’t. Schaeffer was no longer seen as thoughtful but a screech. Everett Koop joined him and they both became so marginalized that they fit under the wings of Jerry Falwell, a man I respect on his own terms but a place where Koop and Schaeffer did not belong.

In the meantime, there’s Franky. He’s Ron Reagan’s twin. Two sons who have ridden their fathers’ coattails and made some real money by simply being a critic of their dads.

A recent interview with Rick Warren

Warren isn’t fading away!! He is capable of raising an issue, getting people on board, making a difference and then moving on to another issue where the same thing happens all over again. One church consultant has commented that Warren has learned the secret of continuous revival.

I wouldn’t use the word revival, but I would use the word focused. Warren does not let his congregation rest. They are always conquering something. I think churches should always be conquering something, or at least part of something. Most churches are ill-defined. They meet on Sundays and then sort of do something the rest of the week. Not good enough for Warren. Shouldn’t be good enough for the rest of us, either.

Here is a recent interview in Financial Times.

Of course, the one thing many feel Warren leaves out is worship itself, even as much as he uses the word. This is less quantifiable and not so easily targeted in a growth plan. It’s not about how many people can be squeezed into a room. It’s an indefinable something where the converted gather to offer to God this thing called worship (I challenge you to define that one) and thus enter into the heavenly temple and join with innumerable hosts in praise. It doesn’t “do” anything. It just is. It has a value in and of itself. And for people to be attracted to it, they must see that value.

A liturgist Warren is not. For him, worship is simple, plain and pretty much detached from history. There are no creeds to repeat and teach, no wise and ancient prayers to offer, no consistent trinitarianism to weave into the service and protect, no time tried words for the congregation to use, etc. It is all in the moment. No guest has to struggle a bit wondering what’s going on. No novice has to feel left behind while he catches up. No marginal church goer has to fell, well, marginalized. It is all accessible – quickly, immediately, intuitively.

I wonder. How could anything that is 2,000 years old that has enfolded billions of people through time be so thoroughly stripped of history? Shouldn’t that raise an eyebrow, even by a newcomer?

Cardinal John Henry Newman in his book An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine asserts that this development is exactly what we should expect to find. But in Warren’s model, it is the thing that is missing, as if we could skip over 1500 years of church history and get back to “the thing itself.” In other words, let’s take away St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, the Westminster Confession of Faith. Since they weren’t part of the early church, they are expendable and do not have to show up at our worship services in any shape or form.

This is what troubles me, the ahistorical nature of this form of popular worship. History is massive. It might move slowly, but the weight of it gives it torque and force. It will not lie hidden. It will force itself through the broken places and its lava will flow into and over the church.

While the TV evangelists shape our faith for each new generation the underlying melody is sung by the generations past. They will be heard. They will teach us. And when the newest shows its vulnerabilities and instabilities, the people will turn back to the Church in its fullness and ask to be taught.

Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church

I am watching an interview with the author at Book TV here.  The book is here at Amazon.

In this matter I am not conspiratorial, and, quite frankly, I have learned to hold my nose at some of the money mechanics of the local church. Not so much about the way that it is spent, though from time to time I have an issue there. For me it is more about the desire for money, the signals that some send they are able to meet that desire and the consequent disabling of the church in its moral and social leadership.

The heroes in these kinds of stories are few. This is just a very hard area for a serious heavy hitter to step up to the plate and hit the curve balls being thrown.

In the Book Acts the first challenges to the revival brought by the Holy Spirit are money challenges – taking care of the widows and orphans of different ethnicities fairly, the cabal of Annanias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Spirit and the church by a seeming generosity and the attempt of Simon Magus to buy the Holy Spirit.

Simply put, in most churches the richer have their way. Church leadership wants to be richer and richer church people can make them richer. A volatile combination. Satan has plenty of wiggle room on this one. And since the handling of money has concentric rings of privacy drawn around it, the guy in the pew has little direct access for the purposes of accountability.

But, of course, this is the RC church and the scale of economy is huge. I will be taking a look. Thought you might be interested.

Virtue as a necessary good in the public sphere

It requires a virtuous citizenry to make a democratic government work.

The great project of Socrates and Plato in Athens 400BC was the inculcation of that virtue necessary for their experiment in democracy to work and not fall into mere self interest. Politics is the good man doing the right thing, even if it is against his own self-interests.

This posture by Socrates/Plato was in direct opposition to the Sophists, rhetoricians who taught the skill of persuasion unyoked to the eternally good, true and beautiful. For them, such things were unsure and therefore of no ultimate value in the “real” world of politics and commerce. They taught others the skill of how to persuade others to do things their way.

This is the perversion of democracy, its downside, its Achilles Heel. For if a democratic society is splintered into mere interest groups, each of whom only seek their own interests, then there can be no true polis, no true city.

The only way that this perversion can be checked is if virtuous people are voting. The state cannot make people virtuous but it depends on people who love the good.

For Socrates it was philosophy to the rescue. Teach others to see that the good, the true and the beautiful were not matters of taste and preferences. They are real entities which can be discerned by the mind, only if men would recognize that the things of this world are temporary and passing, only shadows on a cave wall.

Translated into the 21st century, this is the contribution of the church. While we know that we travel to a city whose builder and maker is God and that the City of Man passes away, yet we also know that the world we live in has not become nothing and fulfills no purpose in God’s plan. We know that it is a godly means to create order and justice so that citizens can live quiet lives of peace.

It is just here that it seems the vision of the church has faded. Are we producing good people who love the good? I don’t even think that is on the table for discussion in most churches. We are interested in compassion understood as giving alms, forgiveness, mercy – all of which are biblical values and at the core of the biblical message and world view.

But I do not think the church hits the note of virtue. The Protestant emphasis on justification by faith alone, as necessary and first order as it is, becomes in my circles the only note struck, the only bell rung. We glory in how far a sinner can go and yet still be rescued by God. But we have forgotten the life of virtue that makes a man a good man. Even this is hard for  a Protestant to say. Because of the radical nature of the evangelical evaluation of the human condition we distrust any paradigm which speaks of the good man. For all our righteousness is as filthy rags, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us. This certainly says something that needs to be said. But it doesn’t say all that needs to be said.

The church should be an instrument productive of virtue and good living, where a revived and restored people go out into the market place of ideas and propound the blessings of good living and godly virtue – the life of self control, faithfulness, responsibility, work, marriage vow keeping, etc.

I would commend to you the reading of Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue and After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by NT Wright.

When the church lives in a revived condition, much as happened during the First and Second Great Awakenings, society is transformed. Men and women spill out of churches into a corrupt and troubled world and bring order and love to the moral confusion and sloppy living of a lost culture. In America this is our hope. Our hope is not the political process itself. It has no power to make a man a good man. God can make a bad man a good man.

This is our hope. This is the way. Socrates’ vision was the right vision. Jesus made the vision possible.