Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The upcoming game

As long-time readers of this blog realize, I'm a pretty big Indianapolis Colts fan. Actually, I am a pretty big Peyton Manning fan and get the rest of the Colts as a bonus. When Peyton threw the pick-six in the AFC Championship Game a few days ago, I was so frustrated with him that I took of my jersey, threw it in the closet, and played a game with my kids. But after our game was over, I went back down stairs and turned the game on again, found my jersey and hung it up again. I always come back...

But, like Peyton, I'm try to keep even-keeled about that upcoming game, the pretty big one with the Roman numerals after it. Trying to enjoy the journey more and hope, just hope, that they are able to beat those folks from up I-65. Even though the Colts are a big favorite (still a touchdown), I've groused in my heart all week since I got my Sports Illustrated in the mail--they put Peyton on the cover and you know what that means. The week Jeff Garcia was on the cover, Eagles lost; the week Drew Brees was on the cover, Saints lost; the week Peyton is on...

All Colts fans everywhere wonder, Why didn't they put Rex Grossman on the cover??

Anyway, I thought this ESPN piece on Peyton was excellent and I'm sure that there are other good things being written. But I'm not reading a lot of them; I've got my game face on, saying the Peyton mantra, "It's all about enjoying journey..." And hopefully, by 10pm on Sunday night, it will be a celebration for the second Lucas-cheered team to win the world championship in their sport.

The curse is over; long live the Colts!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

InterVarsity Press

In the aftermath of a busy week, the Lord graciously had our youngest sleep for a couple hours while my wife went to work out at the YMCA and my other three kids played in our basement. That allowed me to lay in bed and finish reading Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.: An Anecedotal History of InterVarsity Press, 1947-2007.

I've been involved with the Christian publishing industry for a good chunk of my life--first as a Christian bookstore employee (at the long-defunct Sonrise Shoppe in Fairfax, Virginia, and Ark and Dove in Alexandria, Virginia), then as a academic book buyer (at Westminster Seminary Campus Bookstore and LifeWay Campus Stores), and now as an author. Because of this involvement, I've always been fascinated with the publishing process and especially with the acquisition part of the business (though my wife would say that I'm simply fascinated with books, period).

For someone like me, then, this book was simply a wonderfully breezy, insightful and honest inside look at one of the more important Christian publishing companies in the country. I was particularly impressed by the ways that the IVCF's approach to ministry initially influenced IVP's publishing program. I also enjoyed the way the authors described the transition from "family business" to "corporate business" that IVP has gone through over the past 15 years; it was an interesting reflection on the maturation of Christian publishers and publishing.

All in all, a book that at first glance might seem a little dry was actually a fast-paced and entertaining look at one of the more important Christian publishers in the country. Highly recommended, especially for lazy Saturday afternoons!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

I was saddened to see the news in First Things that Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, the prominent historian of the American South and opponent of modern radical feminism, passed away on January 2, 2007. Though she had long battled illness, I still grieve for Gene, her husband and fellow historian. One small gladness is that they were able to see their lifetime project, The Mind of the Master Class, into print before she died; even more gladness can be found in her profession of faith in Jesus as a faithful Savior.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More Odds and Ends

1. We finally have power again. Monday night, after we had lined up alternative sleeping arrangements, it came back on. I never realized how dependent I was upon electricity. It made me vow that the next house I buy would have multiple fire places so that there would be an alternative heating source (our last house in Kentucky had two fireplaces; the next house will as well).

2. In December, I had written this post about Harvard's curriculum review and their exclusion of a required religion course. The story has been picked up by MSNBC/Newsweek.

3. My friend, Aaron Messner, has accepted the position of college chaplain at Covenant College. Aaron is one of a rising generation of solid, expositional preachers; he has ministered for the past four plus years at Tenth Presbyterian Church. This is a great choice for a strategic position.

4. This was a very thought-provoking post by my colleague, Anthony Bradley. Even more interesting has been the discussion. I think at least part of the answer to the issues that Anthony and the blog commentators raise can be found in the fact that “theological” ideas work within cultural systems, in which other intellectual commitments, social and economic practices, education, gender, class identifications, and narratives work together either to support or subvert those theological ideas. Hence, it is not merely theology versus culture (and hence, a matter of clearing up cultural blind spots); rather, theological commitments always incarnate themselves within cultural systems, and hence will be partially worked out (i.e. with blind spots).

I think this is the only way to move toward a nuance explanation of the failures of conservative Protestants in the American South in the 19th and 20th centuries (or Dutch Reformed in South Africa during the same period; or Kuyper defending those Dutch Reformed “folk”; or Jonathan Edwards owning slaves; or mainline Protestants current failure on abortion; or whomever). It allows us to view the past with a critical eye, and to trace the way theological commitments were compromised and contradicted, but not completely jettison everything the past has to teach us (as some of the commentators on this post seem to desire). As I have suggested elsewhere, "Dabney [and others like him] should be remembered because the past is the parent of the present, because many of the public stances of evangelicals either fail to maintain the spiritual nature of the church or fail to provide room for humility and self-criticism, and because recognizing Dabney's failures can help point evangelicals in a different direction to 'a more excellent way.'" Sometimes historical failures can teach us far more because they force us to look at ourselves far more self-critically and ultimately to look to Jesus.

5. I'm sure glad these guys held on last night. I don't think anyway expecting them to start the Big Ten season 4-1.

6. I've been disappointed in the way the Pacers have played, and I wish they didn't have to give up Harrington in this deal. But anything to get rid of Stephen Jackson is a good trade.

7. The other night I finished Wendell Berry's new novel, Andy Catlett: Early Travels. I hope to have a review sometime soon. Along this line, this coming Sunday, I am slated to teach in adult Sunday school on the way that Berry's work can help us think about God, creation, and community at Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Odds and Ends

1. We've been without power since early Saturday morning because of the most recent ice storm. Thankfully, the rest of the storm was a mostly non-event; however, it doesn't really explan why Ameren has been so slow restoring the power to my zip code and especially to the homes in my neighborhood, which all have underground lines. In fact, the houses in the next development, that have regular suspended lines (and had several lines down) got their power back last night! Go figure.

2. While I'm thankful that my Indianapolis Colts won, I'm not thankful at all that their eternal nemesis, the New England Pats, won too. At least Sunday's game will be at the RCA Dome, where the Colts are 9-0 this season; it'll make their defense a little faster. And at least Bob Sanders is back and the Colts have begun to play run defense. Still, it is hard to be confident in the light of Tom Brady's amazing comeback last night.

3. Another Saturday event in which we participated was the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-up. Never was an event so appropriately named, with our home's indoor temp hovering around 50 degrees. I took my five-year old son with me and we saw all kinds of Cards stuff; we were also the closest we've ever been to El Hombre. Bought the two things for which I've long pined: a baseball signed by Scott Rolen and a 1958 card signed by Stan Musial. Both go in my baseball "shrine" in my office here at the Seminary.

4. One of the better pieces of news from one of the college football teams I follow is this.

5. Though I wasn't a big fan of the Kelvin Sampson hiring, I have to admit these guys are playing hard defense and move around a lot better on offense than during the Mike Davis era.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mark McGwire and the Hypocrisy of the Media

Here in St. Louis, for the past week, all that has been talked about on the local sports radio is Mark McGwire's status in the Hall of Fame balloting, which is to be announced today. In the local newspaper, a poll of eligible BBWAA voters suggests that less than 20% will vote for Big Mac. And a local columnist wrote with incredible venom about McGwire, saying at the end of his piece, "In my mind, Mark McGwire is a drug cheat whose greatest baseball moments were fueled by the tip of a steroid-filled syringe."

Now, all of that may be true--because baseball did not have steroid testing during the McGwire era, it is hard to say whether he was a "drug cheat." The only supplement that we know he took, andro, was legal at the time (though it is no longer). And McGwire's lack of forthrightness at the Congressional hearings in March 2005 certainly didn't help his cause.

Still, the hypocrisy of all of this becomes incredibly obvious when compared to the case of San Diego Chargers' football star, linebacker Shawn Merriman. For example, Peter King of Sports Illustrated, whom I enjoy reading, voted for Merriman for his All-Pro team, writing, "Merriman? Len Pasquarelli echoed what I think about this the other day on ESPN radio. In football, when we deliberate for the Hall of Fame, we do not take off-field stuff into account. (Or at least we're told not to.) And Merriman was good enough in 12 games to be, in my mind, one of football's two best outside linebackers."

Now remember, Merriman only played 12 games this season, because he tested positive for a known steroid; he is a convicted "drug cheat." And yet, not only is there no outrage, but he was voted to the All-Pro team. And when Jason Taylor, defensive end for the Miami Dolphins, had the temerity to suggest that Merriman shouldn't be eligible for postseason honors (such as the Pro Bowl or Defensive Player of the Year) because he was suspended for 'roids, he was nominated on the Mike and Mike Show for their "just shut up" award.

I can't help but think this is hypocrisy on a large scale--honoring a convicted 'roid user while hammering someone with no evidence of cheating--but the question I am really interested in is, "How do we account for the differences in reaction to McGwire and Merriman?" Is it because of the mythic status of baseball? Is it because McGwire's chase of Maris caused cynical sportswriters to become starry-eyed romantics and so "fooled" them? Is it because everyone simply assumes that football is a dirty game and that it doesn't matter?

Even more, I wonder about what this says about American attitudes about "character" and "integrity." While McGwire has been ridiculed, even though nothing has been proven about his alleged drug use (notice, I'm not saying that he didn't use 'roids--he may have--but only that it has not been proven nor are there any strong links, as there are with Barry Bonds), Merriman is honored--and yet Merriman is the one whose character and integrity are (or should be) in question. Even more, Merriman has flaunted all this, sending Taylor a Merriman "fan pack," with tee-shirt and DVD! What does this say about the ways we look at integrity in public characters, whether sports heroes, politicians, or ministers?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Jonathan Edwards: Presbyterian?

[Note: I received a photocopy of this article from Wayne Sparkman, director of the PCA Historical Center. I thought it was so interesting that I would post it here. It was originally addressed to R. J. Breckinridge, editor of the Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine, and published here in The Presbyterian.]

Ashbel Green, "President Edwards a Presbyterian," The Presbyterian (12 January 1839): 201.

Philadelphia, Nov. 12th 1838

Rev. and Dear Sir:--I have recollected, since I last saw you, that the fact has already been published, which I then mentioned to you in conversation;--and in regard to which you requested me to furnish you with a written statement. In the Christian Advocate, the 10th volume--the volume for the year 1832, and in the No. for March of that year, page 128--after having mentioned a class of Congregationalists, who, in my estimation, were eminent for genuine piety, I added as follows:--"We should have put down here, the name of the great President Edwards; but he was, in sentiment, a decided Presbyterian, and left a manuscript in favor of Presbyterian church government; as his son, the second President Edwards, distinctly admitted to us not long before his death. Beside, the elder Edwards was either a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, at the time of his death, or would soon have been so, if his lamented decease, shortly after his becoming President off the College at Princeton, had not prevented."

The admission referred to in the foregoing extract, was made in consequence of an inquiry put, by me, to Dr. Edwards, as he and I were walking together to the place of meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, then in session in this city. I do not recollect the year. I had heard a report, which I think must have come either from my father or from my colleague Dr. Sproat,--both of whom were contemporaries and admirers of the first President Edwards--that he had written a tract, or an essay, in favor of Presbyterian church government; and I was glad to take the opportunity which at this time offered, to ascertain from his son the truth or fallacy of the report. The inquiry resulted in the distinct admission that the report which I had heard was true.

I spoke to Dr. Edwards, of printing the tract or essay, in question; but he did not seem to favor the idea, and I forbore to press it. He said, that the manuscript referred to, was among several other unpublished papers of his father, which, as I understood him, were then in his hands. Into whose hands they have passed, since the death of Dr. Edwards, is unknown to me.

Respectfully and affectionately, Yours,
Ashbel Green

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Andrew Carnegie

Another biography that I finished during the Christmas break was historian David Nasaw's massive Andrew Carnegie (Penguin, 2006). Tipping the scales at barely over 800 pages, Nasaw gives a thorough look at the little man who dominated the steel industry in the period of America we know as the Gilded Age. And while the thoroughness of the book would appear to leave little room for criticism, I left the book not quite sure what to make of Carnegie.

Starting with Carnegie's birth in 1835 in Dunfermline, Scotland, to a linen weaver, Nasaw deftly charts the rise of this "Star Spangled Scotchman." From the time Carnegie's family emigrates to Pittsburgh when the boy was 14, Andrew was on the make--hustling from one job to the next and investing his money in companies headed by friends and guided by insider information, Carnegie would eventually be a millionaire by the time he was 35.

The key moment in his business career was when he put his "eggs in one basket," moving nearly all his capital to founding Carnegie Steel. In order to protect his steel company, Carnegie ruthlessly set out to acquire everything needed for production, including H. C. Frick Coke, and to bully others into cooperating with him, including the Pennsylvania Railroad. He was civic booster and cheerleader when he needed to be, but he was also a hard-edged business man who knew how to make others fall into line. He gained the respect of financial men on both sides of the Atlantic for the way he would carefully invest his own money and enthusiastically booster for other people's money.

Nasaw describes Carnegie's rise to financial independence well, moving the reader quickly through the first two hundred pages. Unfortunately, by the time Andrew is nearly 50, the book bogs down--it takes six hundred pages to move from 1881 to Carnegie's death in 1919. This is not to say that there isn't insight in these pages--there is: Carnegie's fairly consistent defense of international peace strategies; his attempt to develop himself into a man of letters; his support and influence in the Republican Party; his determination to carry out his "Gospel of Wealth" ideals, and especially his part in the 1892 Homestead debacle. But surely this section of Carnegie's life could have been handled in half the page amount, resulting in a crisper and more focused story.

Because he drowned the reader in the details of Carnegie's life (sections felt more like a travelogue than anything else), Nasaw missed a point to tease out aspects of his subject's personality. Though he noted Carnegie's insecurity or somewhat neurotic behavior at points, I never felt that Nasaw made those character qualities central to "Carnegie the Man." But if there was ever someone who appeared clearly to suffer from "little man's syndrome," it was Carnegie. Not only did he come close to five feet tall, but his constant name-dropping, attempts to influence national and world events, and almost messianic view of his importance to world peace all suggested a person deeply uncomfortable with himself. Yet Nasaw never really probes down into Carnegie's heart to see what is there, perhaps because he got lost in the detailed and overlong narrative.

One of the findings that particularly interested me was Carnegie's religious views. Raised in a family that had little use for their native Church of Scotland, Carnegie attended a Swedenborgian enclave for a while as a teenager. But until he makes the acquaintance of Hebert Spencer, he wrestles to find a philosophy that articulates his own very secular beliefs. Spencer, the apostle of "Positivism," gives Carnegie the social evolutionary hope in progress that allows him to justify his own personal success and to view the world through rose-colored glasses. When the Great War is unleashed in 1914, Carnegie's faith is crushed, he lapses into an emotional breakdown and essentially stops communicating with the world until his death in 1919. In this regard, Carnegie's "faith" is actually fairly typical; as historian Charles Cashdollar has demonstrated, most theologians found positivism to be the key intellectual challenge of the period. What we may not have as good a handle on is how Spencer's positivism translated for the man on the street, producing either the optimism of Carnegie (or Henry Ward Beecher, for that matter) or the pessimism of Mark Twain.

Still, there is probably no better introduction to Andrew Carnegie's life that Nasaw's monumental work. While a briefer (around five or six hundred pages) book would have strengthened the whole immeasurably, I found this to be a worthwhile investment of time.