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A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...

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    Fideism, H.R. Niebuhr, and More ‘Cultural Engagement’

    Fideism, H.R. Niebuhr, and More ‘Cultural Engagement’

    I was encouraged last week to see an article on cultural engagement get some commentary. At Christianity Today, Alissa Wilkinson’s article on “Lazy Cultural Engagement” was dead-on, providing a more personal/vocational take and bringing in the helpful and germane framework of content and form. At ThinkChristian, Josh Larson’s commentary was also helpful, if a little divergent from our take:

    In a broad sense, I agree with what both of these folks have to say. Certainly, as McDavid suggests, Christians are needed as critics outside of our Christian subculture. (I’m grateful to have other outlets where I can do that.) And Wilkinson’s call to…

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    Mockingbird: Bringing You the Gospel (pt. 40)

    From Lutheran Satire, the funniest apophatic Trinity intro I’ve seen in a while:

    ‘Cultural Engagement’, a Bad Fix for Christian Isolationism

    ‘Cultural Engagement’, a Bad Fix for Christian Isolationism

    It’s hard now to sort through too much Christian media without hearing moving and grandiloquent talk  about “cultural engagement.” It’s the trendy thing now, and it seems like the Christian para-academic establishment prepped the ground for an overdue reaction against the isolationism and confrontationalism of now-octogenarian culture warriors. But the talk often seems inversely proportional to the engagement itself. One framework: affirm the good, critique/subvert the bad, discuss redemptive possibilities.[1] (We here tend to omit the latter two.) Talk about talking about culture, and the Evangelical Church is your best conversation partner; talk about a spectacular Game of Thrones battle…

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    Bringing You the Gospel (pt 39)

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    “A man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

    George R.R. Martin on Space Inquisitions and Relativism

    George R.R. Martin on Space Inquisitions and Relativism

    It’s true. The second I heard that acclaimed Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin had penned this passage, my joy was inexpressible:

    As a senior in the Knights Inquisitor, I command my own starship, which it pleases me to call the Truth of Christ. Before the craft was assigned to me, it was named the Saint Thomas, after the apostle, but I did not consider a saint notorious for doubting to be an appropriate patron for a ship enlisted in the fight against heresy…

    Peter, the first Pope and ever his enemy, spread far and wide the tale of how Judas…

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    Evolutionary Psychology and the Allure of Pseudoscience

    Evolutionary Psychology and the Allure of Pseudoscience

    A review of ‘Survival of the Sexiest’, The Nation.

    Why do religions exist? One common, if slightly anti-religious, explanatory scenario runs like this: imagine you’re a prehistoric person without any understanding of gravity, meteorology, or other concepts which explain natural phenomena. You may be led to ask the question, “why does the river move?” The only things we know of that move by themselves are humans and animals, so there must be something ‘living’ in the river. Or what causes the wind? Something living, a spirit, akin to the breath of a human. Part of what lends this explanation its appeal is…

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    Vertical and Horizontal Love in 1 John

    After Jim McNeely’s brilliant Romance of Grace, I wasn’t surprised to find his latest work, Grace in Community, bristling with insight and comfort. 1 John is a difficult and sometimes-neglected book, but McNeely sifts through it with responsibility, originality, and a down-to-earth approach. Below, he treats the tricky subject of “vertical” and “horizontal” love – love for God and neighbor, with his trademark honesty about the Law’s demands, leading directly to God’s grace:

    Notice  John  unifies  “vertical” love  and  “horizontal”  love.  He  says,  “In  this  is  love,  not  that  we  love  God,  but  that  God  loves  us.”  He  is  talking  about  a  vertical  relationship here,  our  love  for  God.  Yet  he  goes  on  at  length  talking  about  horizontal relationships.  It  is  all  mixed  up.  When  we  have  horizontal  love,  God  is  in  it.  The  moralist  wants  to  split  these  up.  The moralist  wants  to  take the  two  laws  as  separate:  love  God,  love  your  neighbor.  John  bridges  that  gap  with  the  gospel  of  Christ  and  Him  crucified.  God  is  love,  and love  operates  in  community.  He  is  saying,  if  you  separate  these  two,  you  cannot  succeed  at  the  one  and  fail  at  the  other.  The  old  commandment to  love  presses  upon  us  the  obligation  to  love  God  and  neighbor.  You cannot  claim  success  if  you  only  do  one  or  the  other;  you  must  succeed at  both.  Jesus  loved  and  forgave  His  own  murderers  and  obeyed  His  Father  to  the  death.  Either  we  succeed  at  both  or  we  fail  at  both.  It  is  a unity  under  the  old  covenant  as  well  as  under  the  new  covenant.  The  old  covenant  presses  upon  you  the  obligation  to  do  both  and  makes  you  the  source  of  power  for  compliance.  The  new opens  the  door  to  the possibility  to  love,  and  empowers  love  through  the  grace  and  forgiveness and  mercy  which  come  to  us  through  Christ’ʹs  blood.  In  Christ,  we  do not  boast  that  we  know  and  love  God;  we  boast  that  we  cannot  know  and  love  Him,  but  He  knows and  loves  us.  We  do  not  trust  in  ourselves or  our  perfection,  but  in  Him  and  His  perfection.  His  perfection  is  that  though  we  slay  Him,  He  resurrects  to  love  us  still.  His  love  abides,  it  persists.  This  is  the  love  that  He  has  for  us,  and  it  is  the  love  that  is  at  the  heart  of  the  love  that  we  have  for  each  other.

    Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

    Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

    1. The New Yorker weighs in on “bucket lists“, ht DH:

    Whence the appeal of the bucket list? To stop and think about the things one hopes to do, the person one hopes to be, is a useful and worthwhile exercise; to do so with a consciousness of one’s own unpredictable mortality can be a sobering reckoning, as theologians and philosophers recognized long before Workman Publishing got in on the act…

    As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a…

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    Ideology and Its Discontents (an Apology for Eutyches)

    Ideology and Its Discontents (an Apology for Eutyches)

    Maybe you’ve noticed this trend too: Lena Dunham’s Girls, despite critical acclaim, has suffered from reviewers saying it’s not racially diverse enough. Game of Thrones has been lambasted for its sexism and weak female characters. The Cosmopolitans has been written off for lacking socioeconomic variety.

    Such things can be painful and troubling to watch, and sometimes it’s best not to view them, perhaps not even to screen them. But such criticisms, for me, are also strangely reminiscent of the one-dimensional cultural lenses prevalent in the Christian world. Drugs are bad, so watching media which contains drug use should be avoided. Affairs are bad, so Madame Bovary was listed…

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    On TV: The Leftovers, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

    On TV: The Leftovers, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

    In Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, a young man named Severian works as a torturer, and in one scene, he helps administer the torturers’ most mysterious and sacred device: the revolutionary. After having gone through it, the victim says, “I thought I saw my worst enemy, a kind of demon. And it was me…” She will spend the rest of her life – about a month – vying with the long-dormant specter of evil, newly-awakened within her, wrestling it as it slowly takes control of her body. Wolfe’s brutal justice is reminiscent of Dante: the source of her tormenting punishment is…

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    Personalizing Law and the Awkwardness of Kissing Albertine

    Personalizing Law and the Awkwardness of Kissing Albertine

    Many pastors feel they’re losing credibility. A greater attention to the Law in human experience could help regain it.

    Along with preaching the Gospel, which overwhelms and effaces our faults, there is still, in Luther’s thought at least, the need to preach God’s Law, which – in addition to making sense of the world around us – lets us know how we stand before God, which is always as those who are spiritually impoverished in themselves and in need of continual mercy. As grace comes into focus only when we know we have done wrong, so the Gospel comes into focus only when…

    Marcel Proust on Self-Sabotaging Discipline

    Marcel Proust on Self-Sabotaging Discipline

    Someways into the Frenchman’s third volume, his masterful forays into the life of the mind sound a distinctly practical, as well as Lutheran, note. The sentence structure takes some getting used to (occurrence of the word ‘which’ in English language, a probably corollary of overwrought syntax, has almost halved since the time of Moncrieff’s translation, though not without a promising recent resurgence), but the sentiment is timeless. The narrator recalls trying to write more and for other good habits, but his desired behavior eluded him still-more when he tried to exercise self-control:

    If only I had been able to start writing! But…

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