Thursday, November 30, 2006

November Snow

As you may be aware, we are having a major snow/ice "event" in Missouri. A couple of things have happened with this storm that were a bit unusual:

1) In all my years in theological education, I can only remember one other time that an institution canceled classes; that was in 1996 when I was in Philadelphia and we got 31 inches of snow--we were out of school for a week. Today, the Seminary let out at noon with afternoon classes canceled; and if we get the expected 5-10 inches by tomorrow morning, we probably won't have classes tomorrow.

2) I can't remember the last time a place I lived got snow in November. I remember once going to Indiana over Thanksgiving and they had snow--it seems like that was around 1993 (all I can remember was we watched the Dallas-Miami game that day and Leon Lett made a play that resulted in Miami winning the game).

At least I was able to teach both sections of my class before we sent them home. I can stay home and sled tomorrow with a clear conscience!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's a big world after all

I found these observations, calling out Reformed and Emergent leaders and urging them to participate in venues such as the Evangelical Theological Society, to be interesting, though a bit uninformed. The writer seems to assume that Reformed guys are avoiding ETS and are practicing "sectarianism" vis-a-vis the larger Evangelical world.

A couple of things here. First, I'm not certain that ETS is the best place to "start attempting to make a difference in the academy." I think it is one possible, even good, venue for doing and sharing academic work; but I also find that many of the conversations there tend to be a bit self-referential and even, ironically, a bit ghettoized. And so, while the writer seems to believe that ETS is "the academy," I'd suggest that it is actually a small, though valuable, part of that academy.

Closely connected with that point, I'd suggest that simply because Reformed scholars aren't "showing up" at ETS (which is a claim that I actually doubt, through my own years of involvement with that society) doesn't mean that they are not "attempting to make a difference in the academy."

If it is not immodest to use myself as an example, since 2002, I've presented papers at the American Society of Church History (three times, spring meetings in 2003 and 2004; winter meeting in 2007), the Conferenece on Faith and History (twice, in 2002 and 2006), The Historical Society (in 2002), The Douglas Southall Freeman Symposium at the University of Richmond (in 2002), and the Institute of Faith and Learning at Baylor Unviersity (in 2004). I suspect that the itineraries of those whom this writer upbraids are similar or even more diverse.

In other words, it is a big (academic) world out there; ETS is one small part of it.

Also, when they moved ETS to a Wednesday through Friday schedule to avoid competing with SBL/AAR, which runs Friday to Sunday, it made the trip pretty difficult for those who have to teach during that time. Granted that others make that sacrifice, I have a hard time rationalizing getting a substitute for two class periods in a single week. I also have other events and conferences that need that time and I can't shoot my entire "substitute" allotment on one week tied to a conference that may or may not be of value.

As a result, it may not be "sectarian fundamentalism" that is keeping Reformed scholars from ETS, but rather something much more mundane--the problem of busy schedules and other venues for doing scholarship that Christ the Lord of all has called us to do.

Monday, November 27, 2006

And another thing

I think 'em boys are taking this college football stuff a little too seriously.

What have you done for me lately?

I know that Alabama Crimson Tide football is its own universe, only slightly stranger than their arch-rivals across the state. But today's firing of Mike Shula strikes me as nearly perverse for a number of reasons.

First, Shula took over a program that was suffering a number of recruiting restrictions, suffering as a result of violations under his predecessor (uh, actually pre-predecessor, in the light of the Mike Price debacle). Next year, if I remember all of this correctly, would have been his first full year of scholarships from the time he arrived in Tuscaloosa four years ago.

Second, last year, he took a mediocre team with a good quarterback to the Cotton Bowl with a 10-2 record. This year, his team was still bowl-eligible at 6-6 with a good recruiting class this year and another next year. Clearly, he had the program going in the right direction. Even granting the fact that he hasn't beaten the aforementioned cross-state rivals in his tenure, it strikes me that he needed a little more time.

Third, as a result of his excellent season last year, Alabama AD Mal Moore gave him a new six-year contract, extending him through 2012. That means that Alabama will be on the hook to Shula, if he doesn't take another job, for nearly four million dollars to be paid over the next five years!

Add all this up and a few things seem clear: a booster is stepping up with the cash to pay for Shula's contract and Alabama already has things lined up with Shula's heir apparent. But even more, the entire college football scene--with the ridiculous pressure to win now--speaks to a larger cultural phenomenon: in which performance drives everything before it and being the head of a major program (or corporation or organization) is not all that it is cracked up to be.

No wonder Terry Bowden has stayed in the broadcast booth, rather than return to the sidelines...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wendell Sighting, No. 1

Wendell Berry's new novel, Andy Catlett, releases Tuesday, November 28. But to whet the appetite, here are some quoted reflections from Wendell and comments from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary VP, Russ Moore.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dabney Review: Journal of Southern History

Peter Wallace wrote a very generious review of Robert Lewis Dabney in the Journal of Southern History 72 (2006): 945-6, which concluded:
...Lucas's volume should be the standard biography of Dabney for years to come. Students of the Old South and its postbellum defenders will benefit greatly from this work, as will those who seek to understand southern Presbyterianism.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Prayer (reflecting on John 3:22-30)

O Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit,

My times are in your hands. Indeed, there is nothing that I have which you have not given me.

There is no gifting that didn’t come from your hand. Any ability I have—whether to think, write, teach, preach, administer—all has come from you. Any praise that I receive for my abilities really belongs to you.

There is no gift that didn’t come from your hand. My parents and sister, wife and children, came from you; they are all gifts of grace to me. The house in which we live, the possession which we use, the calling in which I labor, all has come from you.

Above all, there is no spiritual gift that does not come you—especially, the forgiveness and righteousness that come through faith in Jesus.

Over and again, Lord, you remind me that without you, I can do nothing. It is only by your Spirit, by your grace, that anything I do gets done.

Please forgive me for believing that somehow this gifting and these gifts are mine, and not yours; that human beings are the ones who give me a place in this world; that my worth is based on how human beings appraise or praise me; that I am self-sufficient.

Please forgive me for not believing that the Gospel is true, whether I feel it is or not; that you love me even if people do not; that you have a place for me, even if it is to be a celebrant at a wedding feast; that your empowerment is as vital as breath.

O Lord Jesus, please increase in my life, my heart, my sight. Please allow me to decrease in my life, my heart, my sight. And may my greatest joy, my complete joy, be in you receiving great praise and honor in the lives of others.

Once again, Lord, I give myself clear away. I’ve done this before; I will do it again. But this day, I give you myself to use in your kingdom however you see fit.

Above all, O Triune God, do not cast me away; find some use for me in your Kingdom. Let me know the complete joy that comes from serving the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the strong name of Jesus, I pray, Amen.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I'm thinking about starting a Carl Trueman Shrine

...because he has another insightful post here at Reformation21. I can't forbear to quote the following:
My whining derives from the fact that I am convinced that Protestantism really needs to develop its own self-critique if it is to avoid becoming just another idiom for secular values of whatever kind we choose. It seems to me that the clear alliance between political philosophies and the church which has existed in various forms since the time of the Reformation and, in each instance, appears to be regarded as `natural' rather than `cultural,' cries out for solid, evangelical types to reflect critically on culture in a way that goes beyond the anodyne appropriation of the latest secular trend. It's a provocatice suggestion, but I think reflection upon the differences between, say, Marx and Weber, and an understanding of where both men went wrong, is probably a good place to start. At least then we start from a
point which reminds us that people are more than linguistic constructs, that life is more than language, that the biggest con-trick out there is `culture' presenting itself as `nature' (read Romans 1), and that the reasons why we think the way we do are intimately connected to a whole host of factors which go beyond the mere intellectual. And that, incidentally, is one of the reasons why good church history is important; it should train its students to think cirtically and holistically about the world in a way that will allow them to engage that world in a critical and holistic way.

As I led a discussion on the Crusades today and the problem of Christians promoting violence (whether in the twelfth and thirteen centuries or the twenty-first), my goal was summed up in that last sentence. If I can simply help my students think critically and holistically (which means, of course, thinking historically) about contemporary claims, then I would have accomplished my main task--which is nothing less than helping students gain wisdom and insight into God's (and human beings') ways in this world.

Another sign of the approaching apocalypse... Emmitt Smith winning Dancing with the Stars.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cautionary Note

I've been working on this historiographical essay on Presbyterian denominational history. Ran across this quote, from John Mulder and Lee Wyatt's essay, "The Predicament of Pluralism: The Study of Theology in Presbyterian Seminaries Since the 1920s," in The Pluralistic Vision, p. 43:
New faculty appointments have had a tremendous effect on the character of theology in the Presbyterian seminaries, and this was particularly the case during the 1930s. Many of the new faculty brought a "neo-orthodox" perspective to American Presbyterianism...The change was especially dramatic at Princeton, where only two members of the faculty in 1929 continued beyond 1937.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Our Vehicle to God?

Al Mohler has a fascinating post that contains an interview with the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori. The snippets of the interview were interesting, but not in the way that Mohler describes (i.e. an indication of the trouble in which the Episcopal church finds itself). Rather, what makes this fascinating is the utter triumph of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Protestant liberalism in the life of a church (for more on Protestant liberalism, see William R. Hutchison's The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism).

Schleiermacher in his Christian Tradition argued that "the common element in all howsoever diverse expressions of piety, by which these are conjointly distinguished from all other feelings, or in other words, the self-identical essense of piety is this: the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or, which is the same thing, of being in relation with God" (p. 12). For Schleiermacher, Christianity represented the highest form of this sense of absolute dependence, but other religious also conveyed piety (interestingly, he contrasts Judaism and Islam with Christianity by stressing the latter's less "sensuous" faith; p. 37-9).

When the good bishop claims that Jesus is "our vehicle to God," but that other religions come to God through "human experience," what she is really meaning to say is that we all encounter God through the very human experiences of contingency, relationality, and dependence upon forces larger than ourselves, upon the very forces that press down upon us (to use James Gustafson's language). And in this regard, she is simply articulating a position that Schleiermacher had taken over 150 years before.

What is really surprising is not that the Episcopal Church has a bishop that represents thorough-going liberalism; the real surprise is that it has taken this long, that the native evangelicalism of mainstream Protestantism has prevented liberalism from coming to full flower in its public leadership. In this regard, perhaps the Episcopalians are not as bad off as the mainstream Presbyterians, who can count all sorts of thorough-going liberals among the leadership and far earlier to boot (men such as William Sloane Coffin and Henry P. Van Dusen who led the PCUSA in the 1920s to 1950s).

What makes all of this so bad is, as Mohler points out, how far removed it is from historic Anglicanism and from the native evangelical spirit and doctrinal content that has long characterized Protestantism. It certainly makes the choices of evangelical Anglicans that much more difficult as they see the effects of Protestant liberalism in the church's thought and life together.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is the end near?

In the light of the news that my alma mater is now an accredited institution, I wonder. Of course, the accreditation is not from one of the so-called "big six" regional accreditation bodies (such as the North Central Association). But still, I remember (and probably still have somewhere) a pamphlet in which Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., said that the institution would never be accredited, because such would lead to doctrinal compromise and the end of the school.

I think even more, this signals the continuing loss of power of the big six regional accreditation bodies and the development of "grassroots" bodies that will seek to hold their own schools to standards. Whether this will be enough, in the light of the Spellings Commission's recent report (that has the regionals shaking in their books), to protect religious institutions who are not accredited by the regionals is yet to be seen.

Still, I do applaud my alma mater for doing this kind of work. Since I am leading my own school's self-study process, I know how valuable it is to engage in this type of examination, planning, and assessment. I simply hope that the accreditating body will be able to hold my alma mater and all its member schools accountable to the agreed upon standards for the good of their mission and ultimately for the good of Christ's Kingdom.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Carl Trueman on Ted Haggard

These observations by Carl Trueman on the sad case of Ted Haggard are brilliant. And true.

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, No. 2

I first commented on the "Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future" here. But now, there is a symposium over at Touchstone Magazine that responds to this call. Perhaps the best response is the one by D. G. Hart, although each raises important questions about the entire project.

[HT: Justin Taylor]

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sad Tidings of Spiritual Warfare

The continuing revelations in the Ted Haggard case are just incredibly sad. Some want to respond with profound judgment: one comment poster on a blog, who said, "Ted Haggard needs harsh judgement [sic] and harsh consequenses that will humble and restore. He does not need to be coddled and felt sorry for. He needs to set an example of where Christians say 'See this? This is wrong!' I'm frustrated with the touch-feely responses of evangelicals sometimes. Sin is sin. And the wages of sin is death." Of course, no one is excusing or minimizing the immense damage that Haggard's sin has done to the Gospel, the church, or his family. But sometimes even those who are Christians, even pastors, sin in ways that are death-dealing. At that moment, sin must be named, confessed, and repented of; but the harsh, penal aspects even of those sins have already been borne by Christ. After all, isn't the good news of the Gospel that though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord? And don't we receive that gift through repentant faith, a gift granted by the Spirit?

Others suggest that this case represented a reflection of Haggard's message, which contained "a palpable absence of the Gospel...lots of feel-good worship and moralistic exhortation to lead a good life, but little in the way of a biblical message of repentance for sin and grace in Christ." Of course, this may ignore the fact that even in those churches where the Gospel is truly preached (such as PCA churches), pastors can fall into similar or even more heinous sins. We must all take heed lest we fall; and if we think that somehow we are protected or exempted because "we have the Gospel right," then we are in a dangerous, spiritual place. We don't stand because we are somehow better than others; rather, we stand by the grace of our God [note: I know that the person from whom I've quoted would agree with this as well].

I think it is truer to say that this is yet another example of the real, profound spiritual warfare in which all Christians are engaged. It is why Peter tells us, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devor. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9). Apollyon would like nothing better than to take out pastors and Christian leaders; as John Bunyan has him saying in Pilgrim's Progress, "I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people: I am come out on purpose to withstand thee." And because our enemy hates our Prince, the Lord Jesus, he hates us and seeks to destroy us.

Our hope is not in our own ability to stand firm. Rather, our hope is in the Divine Warrior who defeated the devil and all his cosmic powers at the Cross and the Empty Tomb. It is this Divine Warrior who grants us all the benefits of his mediation that enables us to stand firm--faith, peace, righteousness, salvation--and grants us all prayer and his Word in the moment of trial (Ephesians 6:10-18). Though any of us can fall into the similar sins as Haggard when faced with similar temptation and attack, God is able to preserve us for he has triumphed already through Jesus Christ; he has defeated our archenemy; and he will display that victory to the entire world at the Last Day. Until then, we trust in him who is our mighty fortress from the devil's attacks.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dabney review: Mid-America Journal of Theology

There was a very generous review of my Robert Lewis Dabney in the Mid-America Journal of Theology 17 (2006): 315-8. The reviewer, Prof. Alan Strange, wrote:
...Lucas teaches church history at Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO) and in this biography bears a heavy burden in attempting a "fair and balanced" portrait of R. L. Dabney, who is a challenging subject, having about him both that which is appealing and also that which is unattractive. Lucas, to his credit, pulls it off handily. The book is well-researched, well-written, and always maintains the readers' interest. The biography is remarkable because Lucas looks straight at Dabney and does not flinch...