Friday, May 31, 2013

The Market as God

I have come to wonder whether the real clash of religions (or even of civilizations) may be going unnoticed. I am beginning to think that for all the religions of the world, however they may differ from one another, the religion of The Market has become the most formidable rival, the more so because it is rarely recognized as a religion. The traditional religions and the religion of the global market, as we have seen, hold radically different views of nature. In Christianity and Judaism, for example, "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein." The Creator appoints human beings as stewards and gardeners but, as it were, retains title to the earth. Other faiths have similar ideas. In the Market religion, however, human beings, more particularly those with money, own anything they buy and -- within certain limits -- can dispose of anything as they choose. Other contradictions can be seen in ideas about the human body, the nature of human community, and the purpose of life. The older religions encourage archaic attachments to particular places. But in The Market's eyes all places are interchangeable. The Market prefers a homogenized world culture with as few inconvenient particularities as possible.
Harvey Cox"The Market as God" from The Atlantic (1999)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sustaining communities

It is hard to imagine sustaining significant friendships on the margins if we ourselves are not part of a community. It is simply too difficult to do alone. A community of friends who share our deepest commitments to God and to those on the margins keeps us accountable and gives us strength and support. But even more than that, it is hard to conceive of ourselves apart from the life of a community. We are who we are because of the communities in which we dwell.

Christopher Heuertz & Christine PohlFriendship at the Margins

The Kingdom

Jesus was not just a moralist whose teachings had some political implication; he was not primarily a teacher of spirituality whose public ministry unfortunately was seen in a political light; he was not just a sacrificial lamb preparing for his immolation, or a God-Man whose divine status calls us to disregard his humanity. Jesus was, in his divinely mandated prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social, and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider that kingdom as not real, or not relevant, or not possible, or not inviting; but ... no such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life.

John Howard YoderThe Politics of Jesus

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Forgiveness is not the misguided act of condoning irresponsible, hurtful behavior. Nor is it a superficial turning of the other cheek that leaves us feeling victimized and martyred. Rather it is the finishing of old business that allows us to experience the present, free of contamination from the past."

Minding the Body, Mending the Mind (1987), by Joan Borysenko

Simple advice

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119:
Verse. 59. — I considered my ways, And turned my feet unto thy testimonies. No itinerary to the heavenly city is simpler or fuller than the ready answer made by an English prelate to a scoffer who asked him the way to heaven; "First turn to the right, and keep straight on." — Neale and Littledale: A Commentary on the Psalms in Four Volumes.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Jacobean Age

Coriolanus represents this old, Elizabethan order, and Coriolanus, which was written in 1605-1608, reflects very strongly the move into the Jacobean Age, which was pragmatic without understanding the imaginative romanticism that had gone before....
If there has ever been another Jacobean age since, there is one now: it's Jacobean in the sense that the virtue of heroes, which is the virtue of serving something above and beyond, is no longer fashionable. We've become more and more secular and efficient, and we're not interested in that service at all.  There has been a loss of faith, and to a degree a loss of imagination. We live in a godless society. All our gods have failed us. The golden age of the Elizabethan time has passed, and we are now into the dark age of the Jacobean era. 

pages 216-7 of Living with Shakespeare, edited by Susannah Carson

The promising word

 From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 119.
Verse. 58. — According to thy word. The Word of God may be divided into three parts; into commandments, threatenings, and promises; and though a Christian must not neglect the commanding and threatening word, yet if ever he would make the Word a channel for Divine comfort, he must study the promising word; for the promises are a Christian's magna carta for heaven. All comfort must be built upon a Scripture promise, else it is presumption, not true comfort. The promises are pabulum fidei, et anima fidei, the food of faith, and the soul of faith. As faith is the life of a Christian, so the promises are the life of faith: faith is a dead faith if it hath no promise to quicken it. As the promises are of no use without faith to apply them, so faith is of no use without a promise to lay hold on. — Edmund Calamy.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Hammering home the message

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119

Verse. 57. Thou art my portion, O LORD. Luther counsels every Christian to answer all temptations with this short saying, "Christianus sum, "I am a Christian; and I would counsel every Christian to answer all temptations with this short saying, "The Lord is my portion." O Christian, when Satan or the world shall tempt thee with honours, answer, "The Lord is my portion"; when they shall tempt thee with riches, answer, "The Lord is my portion"; when they shall tempt thee with preferments, answer, "The Lord is my portion"; and when they shall tempt thee with the favours of great ones, answer, "The Lord is my portion"; yea, and when this persecuting world shall threaten thee with the loss of thy estate, answer, "The Lord is my portion": and when they shall threaten thee with the loss of thy liberty, answer, "The Lord is my portion"; and when they shall threaten thee with the loss of friends, answer, "The Lord is my portion"; and when they shall threaten thee with the loss of life, answer, "The Lord is my portion." O, sir, if Satan should come to thee with an apple, as once he did to Eve, tell him that "the Lord is your portion"; or with a grape, as once he did to Noah, tell him that "the Lord is your portion"; or with a change of raiment, as once he did to Gehazi, tell him that "the Lord is your portion"; or with a wedge of gold, as once he did to Achan, tell him that "the Lord is your portion"; or with a bag of money, as once he did to Judas, tell him that "the Lord is your portion"; or with a crown, a kingdom, as once he did to Moses, tell him that "the Lord is your portion." ThomasBrooks.
A delightful note from the biography of Brooks: Brooks lost his first wife, Martha Burgess, a godly woman whom he greatly treasured, in 1676. He wrote of her, “She was always best when she was most with God in a corner. She has many a whole day been pouring out her soul before God for the nation, for Zion, and the great concerns of her own soul.” He later married a young God-fearing woman named Patience Cartwright (Alexander Grosart puts it succinctly: “she spring-young, he winter-old” [Works of Brooks, 1:xxxv]), who proved a most worthy companion.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


“Wonders,” he thinks. “little wonders of a great wonder.” He feels the sweetness of time. If a man eighty-two years old has not seen enough, then nobody will ever see enough. Such a little piece of the world as he has before him now would be worth a man's long life, watching and listening. And then he could go two hundred feet and live again another life, listening and watching, and his eyes would never be satisfied with seeing, or his ears filled with hearing. Whatever he saw could be seen only by looking away from something else equally worth seeing. For a second he feels and then loses some urging of the delight in a mind that could see and comprehend it all, all at once. “I could stay here a long time,” he things. “I could stay here a long time.”
Wendell Berry"The Boundary" from That Distant Land

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Religion using the word "religion" we are already making assumptions which need to be examined. In most human cultures religion is not a separate activity set apart from the rest of life. Neither in practice nor in thought is religion separate from the rest of life. In practice all the life of society is permeated by beliefs which western Europeans would call religious, and in thought what we call religion is a whole worldview, a way of understanding the whole of human experience. The sharp line which modern Western culture has drawn between religious affairs and secular affairs is itself one of the most significant peculiarities of our culture and would be incomprehensible to the vast majority of people who have not been brought into contact with this culture. It follows that in thinking about the implications of the claim that Jesus is God's unique self-revelation for our relation to the world religions, we must take into view more than what we call religion. The contemporary debate about Christianity and the world's religions is generally conducted with the unspoken assumption that "religion" is the primary medium of human contact with the divine. But this assumption has to be questioned. When the New Testament affirms that God has nowhere left himself without witness, there is no suggestion that this witness is necessarily to be found in the sphere of what we call religion. The parables of Jesus are notable for the fact that they speak of secular experiences. When the Fourth Gospel affirms that the light of the Logos who came into the world in Jesus shines on every human being, there is no suggestion that this light is identified with human religion. The text goes on to say that this light shines in the darkness, and the ensuing story constantly suggests that it is religion which is the primary area of darkness, while the common people, unlearned in religious matters, are the ones who respond to the light. And it is significant that Justin Martyr, one of the earliest apologists to use this Johannine teaching in making contact with the unbelieving world, affirms that the true light did indeed shine on the great philosophers like Socrates, but that the contemporary religion was the work of devils. Our thought must therefore be directed not just to the religions so called; we must ask about the relation of the gospel to all who live by other commitments, whether they are called religious or secular.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 172/3

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

Martha Graham"An Athlete of God" in This I Believe

The consumer salvation

The Myth [of Christian Uniqueness] celebrated a decisive move beyond exclusivism, and beyond the inclusivism which acknowledges the saving work of Christ beyond Christianity, to a pluralism which denies any uniqueness to Jesus Christ. This move, the "crossing of the Rubicon," is the further development of what was described by John Hick as a Copernican revolution - the move from a christocentric view of reality to a theocentric one (Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths). The further move is described as "soteriocentric"- it has its center in the common quest for salvation. Even the word "God" excludes some concepts of the Transcendent Reality and is therefore exclusivist. But what is "salvation"? It is, according to Hick, "the transformation of human experience from self-centred-ness to God-or Reality-centredness" (Myth, p. 23). The Christian tradition affirms that this salvation has been made possible because God, the creator and sustainer of all that is, has acted in the historical person of the man Jesus to meet us, take our burden of sin and death, invite us to trust and love him, and so to come to a life centered in God and not in the self. The authors of the Myth deny this. "Reality" is not to be identified with any specific name or form or image or story. Reality "has no form except our knowledge of it." Reality is unknowable, and each of us has to form his or her own image of it. There is no objective reality which can confront the self and offer another center-as the concrete person of Jesus does. There is only the self and its need for salvation, a need which must be satisfied with whatever form of the unknown Transcendent the self may cherish. The movement, in other words, is exactly the reverse of the Copernican one. It is a move away from a center outside the self, to the self as the only center. It is a further development of the move which converted Christian theology from a concern with the reality of God's saving acts, to a concern with "religious experience," the move which converts theology into anthropology, the move about which perhaps the final word was spoken by Feuerbach who saw that the "God" so conceived was simply the blown-up image of the self thrown up against the sky. It is the final triumph of the self over reality. A "soteriocentric" view makes "reality" the servant of the self and its desires. It excludes the possibility that "reality" as personal might address the self with a call which requires an answer. It is the authentic product of a consumer society.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 168-9

The Father

The joy of the Lord's life, that which made it life to him, was the Father; of him he was always thinking, to him he was always turning. I suppose most men have some thought of pleasure or satisfaction or strength to which they turn when action pauses, life becomes for a moment still, and the wheel sleeps on its own swiftness: with Jesus it needed no pause of action, no rush of renewed consciousness, to send him home; his thought was ever and always his Father. To its home in the heart of the Father his heart ever turned.

That was his treasure-house, the jewel of his mind, the mystery of his gladness, claiming all degrees and shades of delight, from peace and calmest content to ecstasy. His life was hid in God. No vain show could enter at his eyes; every truth and grandeur of life passed before him as it was; neither ambition nor disappointment could distort them to his eternal childlike gaze; he beheld and loved them from the bosom of the Father. It was not for himself he came to the world--not to establish his own power over the doings, his own influence over the hearts of men: he came that they might know the Father who was his joy, his life. The sons of men were his Father's children like himself: that the Father should have them all in his bosom was the one thought of his heart: that should be his doing for his Father, cost him what it might! He came to do his will, and on the earth was the same he had been from the beginning, the eternal first. He was not interested in himself, but in his Father and his Father's children. He did not care to hear himself called good. It was not of consequence to him. He was there to let men see the goodness of the Father in whom he gloried. For that he entered the weary dream of the world, in which the glory was so dulled and clouded. 'You call me good! You should know my Father!'

For the Lord's greatness consisted in his Father being greater than he: who calls into being is greater than who is called. The Father was always the Father, the Son always the Son; yet the Son is not of himself, but by the Father; he does not live by his own power, like the Father. If there were no Father, there would be no Son. All that is the Lord's is the Father's, and all that is the Father's he has given to the Son. The Lord's goodness is of the Father's goodness; because the Father is good the Son is good. When the word good enters the ears of the Son, his heart lifts it at once to his Father, the Father of all. His words contain no denial of goodness in himself: in his grand self- regard he was not the original of his goodness, neither did he care for his own goodness, except to be good: it was to him a matter of course.

But for his Father's goodness, he would spend life, suffering, labour, death, to make that known! His other children must learn to give him his due, and love him as did the primal Son! The Father was all in all to the Son, and the Son no more thought of his own goodness than an honest man thinks of his honesty. When the good man sees goodness, he thinks of his own evil: Jesus had no evil to think of, but neither does he think of his goodness; he delights in his Father's. 'Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, even God.'

from George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons Series I., II., and II - first chapter of series two: The Way

Saturday, May 11, 2013


It is not easy to resist the contemporary tide of thinking and feeling which seems to sweep us irresistibly in the direction of an acceptance of religious pluralism, and away from any confident affirmation of the absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ. It is not easy to challenge the reigning plausibility structure. It is much easier to conform. The overwhelming dominance of relativism in contemporary culture makes any firm confession of belief suspect. To the affirmation which Christians make about Jesus, the reply is, "Yes, but others make similar affirmations about the symbols of their faith; why Jesus and not someone or something else?" Thus a reluctance to believe in something leads to a state of mind in which the Zeitgeist becomes the only ruling force. The true statement that none of us can grasp the whole truth is made an excuse for disqualifying any claim to have a valid clue for at least the beginnings of understanding. There is an appearance of humility in the protestation that the truth is much greater than any one of us can grasp, but if this is used to invalidate all claims to discern the truth it is in fact an arrogant claim to a kind of knowledge which is superior to the knowledge which is available to fallible human beings. We have to ask, "How do you know that the truth about God is greater than what is revealed to us in Jesus?" When Samartha and others ask us, "What grounds can you show for regarding the Bible as uniquely authoritative when other religions also have their sacred books?" we have to ask in turn, "What is the vantage ground from which you claim to be able to relativize all the absolute claims which these different scriptures make? What higher truth do you have which enables you to reconcile the diametrically opposite statements of the Bible and the Qur'an about Jesus? Or are you in effect advising that it is better not to believe in anything?" When the answer is, "We want the unity of humankind so that we may be saved from disaster," the answer must be, "We also want that unity, and therefore seek the truth by which alone humankind can become one." That truth is not a doctrine or a worldview or even a religious experience; it is certainly not to be found by repeating abstract nouns like justice and love; it is the man Jesus Christ in whom God was reconciling the world. The truth is personal, concrete, historical.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pages 169-170

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Personal and public

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion.... the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. Empires live by numbness. Empires, in their militarism, expect numbness about the human cost of war. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and societies of domination go to great lengths to keep the numbness intact. Jesus penetrates the numbness by his compassion and with his compassion takes the first step by making visible the odd abnormality that had become business as usual.

Walter BrueggemannThe Prophetic Imagination

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Lifting up your hands

Verse. 48. Thy commandments. By commandments he understandeth the word of God, yet it is more powerful than so; it is not, I have loved thy word; but, I have loved that part of thy word that is thy "commandments," the mandatory part. There are some parts of the will and word of God that even ungodly men will be content to love. There is the promissory part; all men gather and catch at the promises, and show love to these. The reason is clear; there is pleasure, and profit, and gain, and advantage in the promises; but a pious soul doth not only look to the promises, but to the commands. Piety looks on Christ as a Lawgiver, as well as a Saviour, and not only on him as a Mediator, but as a Lord and Master; it doth not only live by faith, but it liveth by rule; it makes indeed the promises the stay and staff of a Christian's life, but it makes the commandments of God the level. A pious heart knows that some command is implied in the qualification and condition of every promise; it knows that as for the fulfilling of the promises, it belongs to God; but the fulfilling of the commands belongs to us. Therefore it looks so, upon the enjoying of that which is promised that it will first do that which is commanded. There is no hope of attaining comfort in the promise but in keeping of the precept; therefore he pitches the emphasis, "I have loved thy word," that is true, and all thy word, and this part, the mandatory part: "I have loved thy commandments."
Observe the number, "thy commandments"; it is plural, that is, all thy commandments without exception; otherwise even ungodly men will be content to love some commandments, if they may choose them for themselves.
Richard Holdsworth (1590-1649), in "The Valley of Vision."

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's, The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119 - I will lift up my hands to your commandments, which I love.