Wednesday, September 10, 2003

On the eve of the two-year anniversary of the attacks on our country, I should say something. First, we're going to hear a lot of blather about how President Bush uses overtly religious language to cast his foreign policy in favorable terms. Supposedly how he really believes in the American Civil Religion, that we have a special place in the world, how Americans think we are a "chosen people" like we are God's very own...yadda yadda yadda, blah blah. Look, people: We happen to live in the modern day equivalent of the Roman Empire. Nations rise and fall in this time based on what the United States does, and does not do. If that makes you squirmy, it should. It doesn't change the fact. Now, with all that power comes obligation. You want some religious language, here's some. To whom much is given, much is expected. You had better believe we're going to make sure people understand the gravity of the choices we make. And if you were in posession of this power, you'd try to use it, hopefully for some long-term collective good. And if that articulation comes out a little utopian, and--Heaven forbid!--religious, well, too bad. At least you understand we're serious.
Some might say this nation-building is really arrogant, that we shouldn't say our culture is better. Well, I will. The West is better, and if that really bothers you, get over it. We're not debating whether chopping off the heads of people we don't like is a healthy thing. I refer you to the Ranting Screeds of James Lileks, who makes this point better than I.
I know my country is not God's kingdom. I know the Lord's wrath will come on many things American. But I also know that other things American are worth fighting for. End of Story.
Speaking of John Calvin, sometimes good things do come out of France.
I'm nursing a Coke, dreaming up belligerent comments to spew at Captain Hall when he reads the last post, and e-mails me to say that Maddux is overrated. Bring it then, untutored wretch! (I stole that insult from John Calvin)
Greg Maddux won his 14th game of the season the other day. If you don't watch baseball, Maddux may be the best pitcher of his era. He wins without throwing hard, or striking out many. He is noted for having the fewest pitches per start of any pitcher in baseball, yet his total innings reflect an ability to go deep into games. In short, he's efficient. Greg has won at least 15 games for 15 consecutive seasons, a record only matched by Cy Young (the greatest pitcher ever). Maddux has won 287 games. 300 wins means automatic Hall of Fame entry. Furthermore, modern pitchers pitch every fifth day. It was thought that none from this era would approach 300, so special exceptions for wins would be made. But Roger Clemens accomplished this, and Maddux will do so next season. These facts show the utter, complete dominance of Maddux (and Clemens) over his peers.
I put "I'm not even sure I understand what I just said" as comic relief. It's pretty heavy stuff. Folks don't like it when you sound too sure of yourself. There is an intuition among Christians (and teaching to back it up) that knowledge is not owned. Nothing I say is truly mine, even as people might say, "What you said made sense." Have you ever been amazed at the words from your own mouth? Truly, God is at work to speak His love to us, and through us.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Let me clarify creeds, and what they are. If Christianity is the true religion (big IF, I know) then there will be A) clearly indentifiable, consistent teachings, and B) clear irrefutable evidence of those beliefs in practice. Core teachings are those that survive, and transcend the various disagreements between those who claim Christianity as their faith. The Reformation (whether viewed in a positive or negative light) shows how this works. If you are a member of a Bible church in the backwoods of Kentucky, your Scriptural exegesis will never go beyond, or violate, the basic creedal confessions of the early church. Because they represent the battle for the most crucial aspects of Christianity. (Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedon) You can't be on the wrong side of these, and still be a Christian. Even among those who reject creeds, the core doctrines are safely within those bounds. The reason is that the Protestant impulse is to reaffirm the core doctrines with Scripture itself. At best, you end up back where you started. When challenged, faithful teaching and preaching showed itself in the clarity of those confessions. All minor conflicts give way, because it's black and white, bare bones Christianity. That is not to say that we defer to creeds. Rather, that faithful exegesis leads to a clear confessional history that can be observed. I'm not even sure I understand what I just said.

Monday, September 08, 2003

It's good shorthand, that's why have creeds! If somebody asked you, "What do you believe?" what will you do, drag them through an exegesis of the whole New Testament? Right. Sure you will.
We were talking about memorials in my Religious Studies class today. I think a key feature of memorials is hope and joy. Death must have meaning. And not by itself. There's two ways this goes: First, you can have a notion of "salvation by death." That is, if someone dies, they're automatically in a better place. This is really popular these days. No one likes to hear that their loved ones either stopped existing, or they are in Hell. Your second choice is earthly existence only. This one is dumb. Our hearts cry out how unfair that is. Read the aforementioned Psalm 73. "The wicked better get theirs!," we cry. You may be wondering, "Jason, why can't people just believe anything they want? Aren't all religions the same?" If you can seriously look at the testimony of history, and current events, telling me they're all the same, you're bold indeed. Now, I know how they love to focus on witch hunts, and Inquisitions to avoid the plainly obvious Truth. Those unfortunate incidents have more to do with political power and liars than anything else. The fact is, everywhere the Good News is taught and believed, peace and justice reign. (At least among adherents) What is that good news? I refer you to the Apostles' Creed. For all you folks who don't like creeds, too bad. "I believe the Bible" isn't all that helpful. Yet, remember that no creed has authority in itself, but that it restates clearly the testimony of Scripture.