Thursday, August 10, 2017


"The active life may be considered from two points of view. First, as regards the attention to and practice of external is evident that the active life hinders the contemplative, insofar as it is impossible for one to be busy with external action, and at the same time give oneself to Divine contemplation. Secondly, active life may be considered as quieting and directing the internal passions of the soul; and from this point of view the active life is a help to the contemplative, since the latter is hindered by the inordinateness of the internal passions...

"Hence [Pope Gregory I] says...'Those who wish to hold the fortress of contemplation must first of all train in the camp of action. Thus after careful study they will learn whether they no longer wrong their neighbor, whether they bear with equanimity the wrongs their neighbors do to them, whether their soul is neither overcome with joy in the presence of temporal goods, nor cast down with too great a sorrow when those goods are withdrawn." Summa Theologiae, question 182.a.2) HT: Christian History Magazine, Issue 110, p. 1.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Charlie Gard, the British infant and subject of a court case in the UK, has died. Charlie was born with a fatal medical condition which his doctors said was incurable. His parents wanted to take him to the United States in the hope that experimental treatment would prevent the inevitable. A European Court refused, stating that the hospital and the state were better suited to act in their son's best interest. For more background, read this previous post.

For an account of the battle to save Charlie's life, and the underhanded tactics of those determined that they and not his parents would decide his fate, see this article from Dave Andrusko of the National Right to Life.

As to the claim that the state, not the parents, have ultimate custody of children, see this article by Marissa Mayer of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


On two Fridays in June, I listened to two episodes of Scott McKnight's podcast Kingdom Roots. The subject of both of them was a new book, which he co-authored with Dennis Venema, called Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science. The book is an endorsement of theistic evolution (even though I believe I saw a headline somewhere on the internet stating they do not use the term theistic evolution). The first podcast, which I listened to on 6/16, featured Dr. McKnight. The second featured both authors. I listened to the second one on 6/30. That was after a hard day of yard work. One side of the yard is a steep hill overgrown with thick vines, many with thorns. A lawn mower can't be pushed up that hill, and the vines were too thick for a weed eater. So I used a hedge trimmer, being very careful for it is easy to slip down the hill. Why not hire someone to cut it? Because I wouldn't want them to slip and injure themselves. Toward the end of the work, I heard a noise which sounded like a mighty swarm of bees. I thought I had disturbed a bee hive and said to myself, "Now I'm in for it!" I turned my head in different directions to determine where the noise was coming from. In the process, I almost fell backward, with the hedge trimmer in my hand. Turned out to be a drone flying overhead. When I was done, it was too late to fix dinner, so I went to Arby's for a Roast Beef sandwich, onion rings, and what I thought was a caffeine-free diet coke. I'm pretty sure the guy at the drive-thru window gave me a drink with caffeine. Then I went home and listened to the second podcast. Such were my adventures that Friday evening.

Before I record my impressions, two things must be said. First, through ten years of blogging I have taken issue with evolution, theistic or non-theistic. This time, though, I feel that I'm at a disadvantage. I have not read Adam and the Genome, nor have I read some of the writings which have influenced McKnight and Venema's views, such as the works of John Walton. Nor have I read some of the ancient near Eastern writings that McKnight claims has a bearing on how we should read scripture. Therefore, this may not be my most informed discussion of the subject; this will not be a detailed reply. Second, while I am vehemently opposed to both theistic and non-theistic evolution, I don't maintain that one cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ and a believer in some form of evolution. One of my first book reviews was a negative review of Francis Collins' The Language of God. While critical of most of what he wrote, I went out of my way to favorably acknowledge his Christian experience. I wrote a six part highly critical review of Tim Keller's Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People. Yet I also began that series acknowledging his pastoral service in New York City. While I take issue with the theology sometimes expressed by McKnight, his blog, Jesus Creed, is must reading for anyone interested in the state of the Church. I have cited his blog, or articles he links to on his blog, many times. (I have no knowledge of Dr. Venema.)

McKnight's thesis is that discoveries in science, particularly concerning the human genome, must change how the Church reads and interprets scripture. He states that the Young Earth creationist reading of Genesis 1 & 2 is no longer tenable. Neither is the interpretation of Paul that his doctrine of sin presupposes a historical Adam and Eve. The question, who is right, the Bible or science? is a false dichotomy, McKnight contends. On the podcast, he claims that science alerts us to other voices on how scripture should be read. It directs us to the writings of the cultures outside of  ancient Israel, in the Ancient Near East, to give us a greater understanding of what scripture actually says. One text he refers to is The Epic of Gilgamesh. McKnight claims that history and archeology are upsetting traditional interpretations of New Testament writings on subjects such as homosexuality. As to Paul's doctrine of sin, McKnight claims that this doctrine as interpreted by the Church for two thousand years cannot be a correct reading of Paul. The Church has taught that Paul believed that sin was passed down through the generations because of the fall of Adam. McKnight claims that Paul never taught such a doctrine Why? Paul couldn't have taught that sin was passed down from generation to generation because that was not the majority Jewish view in ancient Israel. And because McKnight believes the belief in imputed sin is mistaken, the view that we inherited sin from two literal parents, Adam and Eve, is mistaken as well. And that Paul believed in a biological Adam, is also mistaken. Sin is not passed down, but operates in each individual when they are confronted with God's will and they choose to violate His will. McKnight says we must jettison traditional interpretations of scripture because of the crises of faith among those Christians who feel they must choose between their faith and the findings of science. McKnight says he has met many who struggle in this area; he calls them "scientific types" who believe traditional interpretations of scripture cannot bear the scrutiny of scientific evidence.

Why would we base the correctness of scriptural interpretation on the religious mindset prevailing in first century Israel, as McKnight urges us to do? After all, the teachings of Jesus were a refutation of the religious thinking and system which prevailed in Israel at that time. The Sermon on the Mount was a 180 degree departure from the legalism of the Pharisees who attempted to please God in the flesh. Matthew records that the people saw that Jesus taught with authority, in contrast to the scribes. In other words, Jesus didn't appeal to the various and competing rabbinical traditions the scribes appealed to for authority. His healings on the Sabbath violated the very core of the Israelite understanding of the Sabbath. So much so that the religious leaders plotted to kill Him. The ancient Israelites believed that God created man so he could observe the Sabbath in particular and the whole Torah in general. Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not man made for the Sabbath. Jesus teachings on death and resurrection ran counter to the beliefs of the Sadducees, who did not believe in heaven or life after death. Jesus told them that they knew neither the scriptures nor the power of God. Their religious beliefs, along with the beliefs of other religious groups in Israel, ran counter to what the Old Testament really said. Jesus' claim of divinity gave the religious leaders an excuse to charge Him with blasphemy. So why should the we discard two thousand years of consistent Church teaching because of the faulty understanding of God and the Torah which prevailed in Israel at that time of Jesus and Paul?

As for scientific types, why are those Christians who believe in evolution scientific types, while those who do not believe in evolution, are not scientific types? There are many in the scientific community who accept the traditional Christian teaching on creation. "Not as many as who believe in evolution," many would reply. Of course that is true. That is due to unbelief among the majority of persons in general. Also, many refuse to reveal their belief in creation for fear their career in science would be short-lived. Not all those who adhere to some form of Intelligent Design, which Dr. Venema debunks as untenable, are biblical creationists. Some hold to some form of evolution. Even some atheists, such as Thomas Nagle, doubt Darwinian Evolution. Many of those doubters of Darwin which were profiled in Ben Stein's documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, such as Richard Sternberg, are not biblical creationists. McKnight paints with too broad a brush the distinction between scientific types and those who doubt Darwinian evolution. McKnight speaks of the struggles his students have between accepting the Genesis account of creation and evolution. I do not doubt that many have struggled with this issue. I know that many people sincerely wrestle with intellectual doubts concerning the existence of God, the veracity of the Bible, and how man and the universe came to be. But it is also true that people in science wrestle with the issue of Biblical creation for fear that if they publicly accept the Genesis account, their scientific careers would be jeopardized. Even a non-Christian such as Richard Sternberg, who as an editor of a scientific publication approved an article based on Intelligent Design, was target by the evolutionary vanguard within the scientific establishment. This was documented in Ben Stein's Expelled. McKnight's plea to change our reading of scripture for the sake of keeping scientific types in the faith has an element of a guilt trip in it. I'm not susceptible to guilt trips which try to convince me scriptural interpretation must be altered for the sake of scientific types.

Both McKnight and Venema claim that the human race could not have originated from one pair of ancestors. They say that humanity had to evolve from at least 10,000 hominids. What about the discovery 30 years ago which scientists claimed was proof that the human race evolved from a single female from the African continent? Some high profile scientific organizations claim this is the manner in which humans evolved. Some claim that all life evolved from a single cell.

Here is one post from my series taking issue with Tim Keller on the subject of evolution. This post, Adam and Eve: The Extreme Makeover Edition,examines how the Church's view of Adam must be altered if the Church is to accept evolution. It looks like I need to repost these articles again. I have discovered that Keller has a video series with the same name as his article. I wish I had known about it sooner. I will have to watch and respond here in the future.

For background on the persecution of Richard Sternberg, see these two articles, here and here. These articles were published in 2008, so I am not sure the all the links in them are still good.

For an explanation of the title, Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


The battle for Charlie Gard's life is taking place on two continents, Europe and North America. Charlie is an infant with a rare disease that will most likely end his life soon. The one last hope his parents have is an experimental treatment available in the United States. However, a European Court has denied them permission to bring Charlie here to the states. The court states that while parents have rights regarding their childrens' medical care, the state alone can best decide what is best for children. And the best thing that could be done for Charlie is to let him die with dignity by allowing the hospital to pull the plug on his life support. Here is a background piece by Daniel Payne of The Federalist. (HT: Bart Gingerich, @bjgingerich) Since this piece was written, both President Trump and the Pope have spoken on behalf of Charlie and his parents. A hospital in the U.S. has offered its services. The European court has now decided to review its findings. Let's pray for a resolution that affirms Charlie's and his parent's rights which should never been interfered with in the first place. The court's assertion of power over the life and death of anyone, let alone a baby, is chilling. This assertion of power is the natural consequence of a single payer health system which prevails in Europe. This court is what Sarah Palin would call a death panel. This is what awaits the U.S. if Obamacare is not repealed. Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, would never vote the way the members of the European court did. It is imperative that President Trump nominate more justices like him.

Last January, the Family Research Council posted an article, Pro-Life Bills You Should Know About in 2017. These bills are listed below. I cannot find any information whether any of these bills have been passed since the article appeared. The article gives a brief explanation concerning the purpose of each bill.

1. S.184/H.R.7 - No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act.
2. H.R.37/S.220 - Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
3. H.R.36 - Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
4. Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act.
5. Dismemberment Abortion Ban Act.
6. Conscience Protection Act

The pro life movement is, of course, known for its advocacy for the unborn. Yet it also seeks protection for the elderly who may feel pressure to end their lives prematurely through assisted suicide. Before being elevated to the Supreme Court by President Trump, Neil Gorsuch wrote a book arguing against the acceptance of assisted suicide. The book he wrote is called The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Here are two quotes from Gorsuch's book in a Washington Post story:

“All human beings are intrinsically valuable,” he writes in the book, “and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

"We seek to protect and preserve life for life’s own sake in everything from our most fundamental laws of homicide to our road traffic regulations to our largest governmental programs for health and social security. We have all witnessed, as well, family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not because doing so instrumentally advances some other hidden objective. This is not to say that all persons would always make a similar choice, but the fact that some people have made such a choice is some evidence that life itself is a basic good."

The U.S. is just one nation grappling with physician assisted suicide. Canada passed the Medical Aid in Dying Law. It allowed doctors to sign up voluntarily to help dying patients end their lives. However, many of those doctors who have signed up have changed their minds. One experience in helping a patient end their life was too much for them and have had their names removed from the list. From the Break Point story by John Stonestreet:

“'We’re seeing individuals, or groups of physicians, who are participating and really feel like they’re alleviating pain, alleviating suffering,' says the CMA’s (Canadian Medical Association) Jeff Blackmer. 'And then we’re seeing doctors who go through one experience and it’s just overwhelming, it’s too difficult, and those are the ones who say, ‘take my name off the list. I can’t do any more.’”
That kind of reaction isn’t surprising, given the Hippocratic Oath every doctor takes, vowing to “do no harm” to patients. These doctors started out philosophically supportive of euthanasia … and then reality set in. The human conscience—and the law of God written on our hearts—are powerful things indeed. (HT: Life Site News)

I found this quote in a post from before the 2016 election. It is from; the quote is by Gianna Jessen, who survived the attempt to abort her at her birth. She was praising Donald Trump's pro life stance as opposed to Hillary Clinton's. She commented on Trump:

 “I'm telling you, Mr. Trump has courage that we do not see enough of. It's plain to me after witnessing what he did Wednesday night and what he's endured the past few weeks. I think Wednesday changed that part of this election and I was so proud and amazed by Mr. Trump...I don't believe abortion has been discussed enough. What Trump did Wednesday night was unprecedented. He vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and stand up against partial abortions. Most candidates wouldn't have done that and he did it — I'm amazed that he did it. I fully support Trump and people who ask me, 'Oh my gosh, how could you?' I say, 'Listen, have you heard of the Supreme Court?' I don't mind being put down for supporting him...It's over if Hillary Clinton wins presidency. Not only will America be changed, we will not recognize this nation...all those Christians that are standing on their principals by voting for her are absolute fools. They have no idea what's coming if she's elected...She doesn't even respect herself, there's no way she respects women and cares about our rights."

Commenting on her own miraculous survival, Jessen had this to say:

"Many Americans have no idea that babies can even live through abortions and are often left to die. But this does happen. I know this because I was born alive in an abortion clinic after being burned in my mother’s womb for 18 hours.
My medical records clearly state the following: Born during saline abortion, April 6, 1977, 6 a.m., two and a half pounds. Triumphantly, I entered this world.
Apart from Jesus himself, the only reason I am alive is the fact that the abortionist had not yet arrived at work that morning. Had he been there, he would have ended my life by strangulation, suffocation or simply leaving me there to die."

Anthony Levatino was a doctor who performed by his own count 1,200 abortions. Some of those abortions followed the same procedure which Gianna Jessen survived. But when Levatino's daughter was killed in a tragic accident, he began to realize the sacredness of the lives of the unborn. His story can be found here, from Life Site News.

This last story isn't a pro life story, but I decided to include it here. From the website Heat Street, medical personal in the United Kingdom are being instructed not to refer to a pregnant woman as a pregnant woman, so not to offend trans-gender persons formerly male but now pregnant. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Recently I came across an article in my hometown paper from about a year ago. It concerned the renovation of a building that once housed the Preston Academy in Kingwood, West Virginia. (West Virginia. was part of Virginia at the time). The first four paragraphs tell the story of Preston Academy's early days:

"In January 1841, the Virginia Assembly incorporated the Preston Academy, to educate the youths in what was then a young town.

"In 1844, youngsters began attending classes in the red brick building, paying $5 for 20 weeks of instruction in the primary department and $7.50 in the junior department.

"Older students paid as much as $20. Classes included grammar, geometry, geography, philosophy, history, chemistry, botany, algebra, surveying, civil engineering, trigonometry, rhetoric, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, drawing, painting, and music.

"Students boarded with local families so they could attend the academy."

(I would have provided a link to the story, but at the moment I have not renewed my subscription.)

When I read the curriculum of Preston Academy, especially the inclusion of philosophy classes, I was reminded of remarks made by Sen. Marco Rubio concerning the study of philosophy. In the first 2016 Republican primary debate, Sen. Rubio said this concerning philosophy:

"Here is the best way to raise wages. Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business. Tax reform and regulatory reform. Bring our debt under control. Fully utilize our energy resources to reinvigorate manufacturing. Repeal and replace Obamacare. And make higher education faster and easier to access, especially vocational training. For the life of me I don't know why we stigmatize vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers." (HT: The Weekly Standard)

I can endorse all the practical solutions Rubio proposed here. And I must confess that philosophy is not my favorite subject. I once wrote a paper for a philosophy class for which I received a high grade. How? I have no idea. A week later, I could not remember how I came to write what I wrote. The Founding Fathers, whom I greatly admire, considered themselves not to be philosophers, but practical statesmen. In forming the Constitution, they consulted historians much more than philosophers. Almost to a man, they hated Plato. Patrick Henry claimed to have cried as he tried to read him. In his old age, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams that reading Plato's Republic was "...the heaviest taskwork" he had ever undertaken. Elaborating, Jefferson wrote," His foggy mind is forever pursuing the semblances of objects, which, half seen thro' a mist, can be defined in neither form or substance." (HT: Dumas Malone, The Sage of Monticello.) I much prefer the study of theology and look with some suspicion upon attempts to the mix the study of philosophy with theology. I agree with Jefferson when he wrote to Adams: "I am not fond of reading what is merely abstract, and unapplied immediately to some useful service." (Malone)

"So," you may ask me, "if you share Jefferson's sentiments concerning philosophy, surely you can have no problems with Rubio's remarks on the subject, can you?" But I do have a problem. Rubio's attitude towards the study of philosophy is totally utilitarian, completely pragmatic. It is a pragmatism not shared by those Americans living during the early Republic. Those who attended schools such as Preston academy lived on farms. For most, the curricula of such schools was the only formal education they ever received. The overwhelming majority never attended college. When their education was complete, they returned to their rural homes. Those that did leave the farm for the city worked in occupations which did not require a formal education. Yet their parents did not share the utilitarian view Rubio has concerning education. They decided that what these schools had to offer was worth the cost. They saw value in the study of philosophy, history, languages, and the arts. Philosophy may not be my favorite subject, yet there are too many testimonials as to its worth for me to conclude it's study isn't time well spent.

Schools such as Preston Academy formed the character of early America. Americans got their hands on as many books as they could. Abraham Lincoln had less than a year's formal schooling. The content of his reading included the King James Bible, Euclid, Shakespeare, Aesop's Fables, William Scott's Lessons in Elocution (the study of public speaking), William Grimshaw's history of the United States, and the Revised Statutes of Indiana. The scarcity of books determined Lincoln's method of reading. "Both the paucity of books and his own intellectual bent led Lincoln to repeated reading of a relatively small number of books. He did not skim across the top of a thousand books but immersed himself in a dozen or two." (Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography, William Lee Miller)  As a young man he studied, "Kirkhams grammer and the Arithmetic, then Natural Philosophy, Astronomy & Chemistry, then Surveying, and Law, In the meantime read history other books, the newspapers of the day, in fact any and all books from which he could derive knowledge...Would alternately, entertain and amuse the company by witicisms jokes &c, and study his lesson." (Miller quoting Robert Rutledge) As to the fruition of such studies in Lincoln's life, from which the whole nation benefited, Miller writes, "It is not every president who would get books on military science from the Library of Congress, studying the subject in order to deal with generals. Lincoln would develop rare powers of concentration, and he would use them all his life. He developed a confidence that he could dig in books for what he wanted, and would do so repeatedly in the years ahead. And that confidence in his powers of understanding what was written on the page seems to have encouraged a broader self-confidence, in his judgement and critical powers-let us call it a moral self-confidence."

I once heard a quote from someone who was a kid in the late 19th century. As a young student, he had to memorize speeches of great Americans like Lincoln, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. He didn't see the value at the time. However, when America fought in the second World War, all those speeches he was made to read as a child concerning America then made sense to him. Those speeches gave him a greater understanding of his country and the values it stood for. Absent such an education, love of country degenerates into empty bravado celebrating America as number one. Or that love disappears altogether. A liberal arts education is like a delivery system. It preserves and passes on knowledge and skills which bear fruit in the lives of those who follow us. Remember what Miller wrote concerning what it did for Lincoln: "... Lincoln would develop rare powers of concentration, and he would use them all his life. He developed a confidence that he could dig in books for what he wanted, and would do so repeatedly in the years ahead. And that confidence in his powers of understanding what was written on the page seems to have encouraged a broader self-confidence, in his judgment and critical powers-let us call it a moral self-confidence."

There are those, including some in my own family, who look down on the liberal arts for two reasons. One, they believe such an education has little value because other disciplines like science and engineering are more rigorous. Also, they view an arts education as not producing anything of practical value. Senator Rubio's comments in that debate assume this second point.Yet many in the sciences and technical fields don't see things that way. David Gelernter, a well known professor of computer science at Yale, was interviewed by Conor Friedersdorf. Here is the first question Friedersdorf asked Gelernter, followed by Gelernter's response:

"The Founding era has as significant a scientist and inventor as Benjamin Franklin playing major parts in the revolution and experiment in self-government. What might a science advisor offer elected officials today?

"I think the lesson of Franklin is not that a science adviser can tell you all sorts of things about government and diplomacy and human nature, but that thoughtful people are almost never defined by a pre-existing intellectual shoe box. The best scientists aren't the dedicated drudges who have no other interests. The best take after Newton, Einstein, and tens of thousands of lesser lights in their devotion to science and other things too. As a scientist handing out advice on the study of science, something I do as a college teacher, one of my main messages is you can't be an educated human being on the basis of science alone; another main message is that, sometimes, you can't even be a scientist or technologist on the basis of science alone.

"If I were loosely gathering topics of study into categories, I might call them arts, religion, scholarship, and science. As important as scholarship and science are, arts and religion are more important...Arts and religion define, in a sense, a single spectrum rather than two topics. And this spectrum is where you find mankind's deepest attempts to figure out what's going on in the universe. A student who doesn't know the slow movement of Schubert's B-flat major op post sonata, or the story of David and Absalom, needs to go back to school and learn better.

"The best scientists are often the ones who are plainest about their non-scientific interests. Feynman's intro physics books are the best of all physics intros in part because he talks freely about beauty. Here is a beautiful theorem. Here's a beautiful fact. My own small contributions to software were guided at every step by my search for beautiful designs. More important, as I argue in my recent book on the spectrum of consciousness, who knows most about the human mind? Today its John Coetzee, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick. That's why the book turns to novelists and poets at least as often as to neurobiologists and psycologists..."

Yes, college is not for everyone. Vocational schools should play a vital role in helping students find a livelihood. Yet even if one doesn't pursue a college degree and saddle oneself with crippling debt, public schools should be the place where all students should be educated in the liberal arts. I didn't have an American history class till the 9th grade. Before that, my classmates and I were taught social studies, where we had to learn such useful things as the rate of sugar production in South America. I didn't have a literature class till the 12th grade. My education was not first rate because of the absence of the liberal arts. If I was educated in early America, I would have received a more well-rounded education. Do you scoff? We may think we know more that those early American parents who insisted that their children be educated in the arts. But they and their children are the ones that formed this country. If Marco Rubio's utilitarian view of education prevailed back then, this country would not have been a better place.

Here is an older article on the subject of the liberal arts.

The writer of the newspaper article on the Preston Academy was Kathy Plum.

Friday, June 16, 2017


After the death of America's best known Methodist theologian, Thomas Oden, I posted a collection here of tributes to him. There were two audio selections, one a lecture Oden gave in 1997, and a 2015 interview with Oden by Al Mohler.  I didn't have time to listen to either one at that time, so I stated my intention to listen and post my impressions of them at a later date. I listened to the lecture on Friday, 4/28. However, I never had an opportunity to listen to the interview on a Friday evening until 6/9. And then it was nearly midnight when I got my chance. Earlier in the evening, I went to a Chinese restaurant for take out. I had to wait 45 minutes because they were so busy that they ran out of rice. The staff assured me this had never happened before. I stood in a corner to stay out of everybody's way. While waiting, I was able to watch an entire episode of Shark Tank. I had never seen it before. One of the entrepreneurs tried to convince the hosts to invest in their natural looking camouflage hunting jackets. Those were my adventures on Friday night. This is about as personal as I get on this blog.

The 1997 lecture is entitled The Renewal of Classic Christianity: Spirituality. It was given at Seattle Pacific University. Here he speaks of the work that consumed the last twenty years of his life, his editorship of The Ancient Christian Commentaries. He begins by declaring that the Holy Spirit has a history and the Church needs to recover that history. This recovery will come through an energetic, rigorous study of the history of exegesis, or interpretation, of Scripture. Today, the standards of biblical interpretation are based upon modern, mainly European, modes of interpretation. Modern commentators often ignore an earlier tradition of Church commentary dating from the 1st century, A.D. to around 750 A.D. Even the Catholic and Orthodox Church's have ignored these resources. These resources were available to, and were used by Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. Unfortunately, the Church's rejection of them over the past two centuries has made them hard to find. Oden claims that a return to a study of these writings will bring a revival to the Church's preaching. Oden's lecture is quite engaging; he spoke with a great deal of humor.

The interview with Al Mohler concerns Oden's autobiography, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. Oden, who grew up in a Christian home, went upon a theological journey which took him far, far away from biblical orthodoxy. He told Mohler that he fell in love with heresy and that every turn he took was to the left. He became a "movement theologian," one who thought of the Church as an instrument for radical, leftest political change. He struggled with the historicity of the resurrection. His training taught him to sound orthodox to the laity while undermining orthodox doctrine.  His theological trajectory was the same as Hillary Clinton's. An encounter with a conservative Jewish scholar, Will Herberg, changed that trajectory. Herberg told him he would never be a good theologian until he immersed himself with the writings of the ancient Church. It was in this engagement with these ancient texts that Oden found the triune God and began his journey as a disciple of Jesus. Mohler asks Oden what was the source of his joy. Oden replied that it came from his reflections upon the Providences of God. Oden believed that God allowed him to become a prodigal in the first half of his life so he could rejoice as a returned and forgiven prodigal in the second half of his life.

The next two Fridays I will be listening to pod casts dealing with theistic evolution. I hope to post my impressions within the coming weeks.

For an explanation of the title, Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.        

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Before being elevated to the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch sat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. One case that came before 10th Circuit during his tenure was the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor. That case involved that charity's contention that the Obamacare mandate requiring them to provide contraceptives which could induce abortions violated their religious liberties. The Little Sisters of the Poor also contended that the required forms they had to fill out to make those drugs available also violated their liberties. The majority of the 10th Circuit ruled against the charity. Justice Gorsuch wrote a dissent. (HT: Various examples of Neil Gorsuch's writings from the Washington Post) In Gorsuch's opinion, the majority of the Judges on the 10th Circuit restated the beliefs of the plaintiffs so they could rule that the Obamacare regulation did not substantially burden their religious liberties.The case made it to the Supreme Court which sent the case back to the Appellate Court for further adjudication. However, this move is seen as a victory because the Obamacare rules on contraception/abortifacients were vacated in a unanimous decision. The reasoning behind Gorsuch's dissent, written before the case went to the Supreme Court, can be seen below. I especially direct your attention to his concluding remarks:

 "The opinion of the panel majority is clearly and gravely wrong—on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty. When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion. All the plaintiffs in this case sincerely believe that they will be violating God’s law if they execute the documents required by the government. And the penalty for refusal to execute the documents may be in the millions of dollars. How can it be any clearer that the law substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ free exercise of 

Where, in Gorsuch's opinion, did the 10th Circuit go wrong? Here is his answer:

"It (the majority does not doubt the sincerity of the plaintiffs’ religious belief. But it does not accept their statements of what that belief is. It refuses to acknowledge that their religious belief is that execution of the documents is sinful. Rather, it reframes their belief. It generalizes the belief as being only opposition to facilitating the use and delivery of certain contraceptives to which they object. Under this reframing, the plaintiffs have no religious objection to executing the forms; it is just that executing the forms burdens their religious opposition to certain contraceptives. The burden would be akin to that caused by a tax on sales of religious tracts at the church bookstore, where the church has no religious objection to paying a tax but complains that the tax will make it harder to spread the Gospel. After so framing the plaintiffs’ belief, the panel majority then examines the particulars of the governing law and decides that executing the documents does not really implicate the plaintiffs in the use or delivery of the contraceptives. If one accepts this reframing of plaintiffs’ belief, the analysis of the panel majority may be correct; perhaps one could say that the exercise of this reframed belief was not substantially burdened. But it is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are."

Gorsuch went on to describe the dangers of courts deciding which religious beliefs are reasonable and which are not:

"...the panel majority may be saying that it is the court’s prerogative to determine whether requiring the plaintiffs to execute the documents substantially burdens their core religious belief, regardless of whether the plaintiffs have a “derivative” religious belief that executing the documents is sinful. This is a dangerous approach to religious liberty. Could we really tolerate letting courts examine the reasoning behind a religious practice or belief and decide what is core and what is derivative? A Christian could be required to work on December 25 because, according to a court, his core belief is that he should not work on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus but a history of the calendar and other sources show that Jesus was actually born in March; a December 25 work requirement therefore does not substantially burden his core belief. Or a Jewish prisoner could be provided only non-kosher food because the real purpose of biblical dietary laws is health, so as long as the pork is well-cooked, etc., the prisoner’s religious beliefs are not substantially burdened. The Supreme Court has refused to examine the reasonableness of a sincere religious belief—in particular, the reasonableness of where the believer draws the line between sinful and acceptable—at least since Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707, 715 (1981), and it emphatically reaffirmed
that position in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2778 (2014)."

In his conclusion, Gorsuch emphatically states that a person's religious beliefs are always substantially burdened when that person must pay a penalty for acting upon them:

"Fortunately, the doctrine of the panel majority will not long survive. It is contrary to all precedent concerning the free exercise of religion. I am aware of no precedent holding that a person’s free exercise was not substantially burdened when a significant penalty was imposed for refusing to do something prohibited by the person’s sincere religious beliefs (however strange, or even silly, the court may consider those beliefs)."

Lets look at that last sentence again:

"I am aware of no precedent holding that a person’s free exercise was not substantially burdened when a significant penalty was imposed for refusing to do something prohibited by the person’s sincere religious beliefs (however strange, or even silly, the court may consider those beliefs)."

It would have been interesting to have seen how Gorsuch would have ruled in the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who thought her Christian beliefs prohibited her from processing marriage licenses for those seeking same sex marriage. She sought an accommodation from the state for her religious beliefs that would have allowed those licenses to be issued without her beliefs being compromised. The state would not cooperate and jailed her for a short time. However, after a new (Republican) governor replaced the outgoing (Democrat) governor, a compromise was reached which accommodated Davis. The legislature later ratified the Governor's decision as the law of the state. This proves that an accommodation along these lines could have been reached before Davis was sent to jail. The powers that be, including some conservative commentators, simply wanted her to be jailed. As in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, the state had alternatives to implement the policies concerning same sex marriage. ( In the Little Sisters case, the Obama administration admitted there were other ways they could make the contraception pills available.) Certainly, the state of Kentucky was demanding she pay a substantial penalty for refusing to act against her own conscience. According to Gorsuch's dissent in the Little Sisters case, that penalty imposed on Davis does not pass Constitutional scrutiny. I'm glad Neil Gorsuch has been elevated to our highest court to replace Antonin Scalia. I pray that when President Trump has more opportunities to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, he names people who will protect the freedom of conscience from government coercion, such as Neil Gorsuch.