Friday, May 20, 2016


Using the Dick and Jane readers, the first word I learned to read was "Look." ("The New We Look and See"). Even as a first grader, I sensed the appropriateness of that word. It was a gateway to literacy, to the future, to the world.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My love affair with Venus Colored Pencils

In third grade, Mary Henry would give me a Venus colored pencil for each picture I drew for her. Venus pencils had a soft, brilliant colored lead...I thought they were ideal! I used them until they were less than an inch long...and I still have those nubs.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Theosis and Incarnation, or Bousema-Prediger vindicated

This article fits the theology that I first heard from Steven Bousma-Prediger, and which Tom Wright now has popularized.

Ascent, Descent, and Human Destiny

od forms Adam from dust, breathes life into his nostrils, and places him in a garden in the land of Eden. We know from Ezekiel (28:13–14) that the garden is planted on a mountain, but we could have inferred that from Genesis 2, since a river flows out of the garden and downhill to Assyria, Cush, and Havilah, where there is gold.

Human history begins on a high place, but Adam is created to ascend, from height to height. The garden isn’t the highest point in Eden. A river arises in Eden, above the garden, and then flows through the garden. Adam isn’t to remain in the garden forever. He’s to climb from the garden to the pinnacle, to the source of Eden’s river.

Even after Adam is cast out and down east of Eden, ascension is still the destiny of the human race. The rest of the Bible is full of ascensions. The flood lifts the ark above the mountaintops, and Noah, the first postdiluvian Adam, rebuilds humanity from Mount Ararat, where he plants a vineyard. Abraham’s great test takes place on Mount Moriah. The temple is built on that same mountain, and all the idol shrines in Israel are built on “high places.” Priests go up into the inner sanctuary, as worshipers “go up” to Jerusalem singing “Psalms of ascent.” David is taken from the sheepfold and given a name among the great ones, while Solomon builds an ivory throne that sits atop a seven-step, stylized mountain. Each of these is a reminiscence, each a small, sometimes symbolic, and always partial recovery of Adam’s original elevation.

And each is an anticipation, pointing ahead to the Last Adam who is elevated beyond the garden, beyond even the peak of Eden, beyond the clouds and the firmament, all the way to the right hand of the Father in the highest heaven. Jesus ascends as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, a king who takes a throne higher than Solomon’s. Jesus’s ascension isn’t a “religious” event with a “spiritual” significance. It fulfills the human vocation to become God’s prince ruling God’s universe. It’s the foundation for a profoundly humanistic Christianity.

It’s a commonplace of Patristic theology that Jesus took our humanity to the throne of heaven. The novelty of the ascension is not that the Son of God reigns. That’s as old as eternity. The novelty that astonishes the angels is the elevation of human nature to the throne of God. And the New Testament makes it clear that the members of Christ—his disciples who trust, love, and follow him—are elevated along with him. We, not just Jesus, are enthroned in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). Our lives are hid with Christ in heaven (Colossians 3:1). Martyrs, like the faithful Martyr Jesus, sit on thrones (Revelation 20:4). This isn’t a future hope. The saints already share the glory of Jesus’s ascension.
That seems a suitable stopping point for human history, but it’s only a halfway point. Human history is about our ascent from garden to peak, from earth to heaven. It’s also about humanity’s descent back to earth again. This too is anticipated from the beginning. Adam is created to ascend into Eden, but he is also sent out and down, out of Eden to follow the rivers down to lands of gold.

Much of the book of Revelation envisions humanity’s ascent to heaven. Martyrs under the altar cry out for vindication and are given white robes as a pledge that they will join the heavenly choir. The 144,000 gather around the Lamb on Mount Zion as first fruits. Once harvested, they stand on the glassy firmament to sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. Up, up, up, until the beheaded sit on thrones once occupied by angels.
At the very end of Revelation, though, John stands on the last of the Bible’s mountains to see the heavenly Jerusalem descend. It’s a garden city, with a river flowing down its golden boulevards and fruit trees on it banks—but this garden city doesn’t stay in the high place. God builds and populates a heavenly city to send it back down to earth. Even Jesus doesn’t stay in heaven forever. As we confess in every creed, we believe that he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Heaven is not our home, our ultimate destiny. Heaven is where things happen first, where our nature is first enthroned in Christ Jesus. But the last part of our journey slopes downward, from heaven to earth. Ascension is not the endpoint of the human story. We ascend in order to descend, and the end comes when heaven breaks through the firmament to couple with earth, when heaven comes to earth to heavenize it.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute. He is the author most recently of Gratitude: An Intellectual History. His previous articles can be found here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Head and/or Heart: The Ping Pong Theory of Western Intellectual History

       Peter Kreeft argues that Western intellectual history can be seen as a ping-pong match between head and heart (reason and will),  eventually deteriorating (or hardening) into logic and feeling/sentiment/emotion.  I've tried to capture his argument in this image. On the left is the "head/reason/ ratio-logic" stream, and on the right is the "heart/will/feeling-emotion" stream. I've tried to use cooler colors to represent the periods tending toward the "head" stream, and warmer colors to represent the periods tending toward the "heart" stream. The closer a period is to the center of the page, the more balanced it is between the poles of head and heart. The further to the left it is, the more it tends toward the head; the further right it is, the more it tends toward the heart. Following this diagram is an explanation of the "ping-pong" theory.
Peter Kreeft's Ten Periods of Human History

Head -------------------------------------------------------Heart
                                                                   {--------1) Myth ------ }

                                                          { ---------2) Axial period--------------}

  Reason understood as
"Ratio &a Intellectus




            3) Hellenism                                                                                4) Hebraism 
                                                  JESUS CHRIST:
                       Logos + Son of David              
                                                      5) Medieval Christian Synthesis



                            6) Renaissance

                                                                                                    7) Reformation

 Reason as

         8) Enlightenment                              

                                                          will understood as  "Feeling"
                                                                                                                         9) Romanticism   


         10)  Postmodernism ………………………………………………..........................10)  Postmodernism 


Adapted from Peter Kreeft’s Back to Virtue
                                                (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1992) pp. 47-56

1.  Myth
       time of the pagans, poets: Homer, Hesiod
         myth attempts to explain origins of things; but are not meant to be rational or moral.

2.  Axial Period:  6th century, B.C.
       Period of great ferment; men were beginning to become aware of their powers and
3.  Hellenism
       Classical Greek and Roman philosophers pursue TRUTH
         The truth they search most for is the truth about virtue/goodness
         Emphasize centrality of intellect, theory  (HEAD)
         Head judges heart “Live according to reason.”
         >virtue is a matter of knowledge:  if we know what is good, we will do it
              vice is a matter of ignorance:  we do wrong out of ignorance

4.  Hebraism
       The Judeo-Christian stream; prophets pursuing the GOOD
         Introduce two critical categories of human existence:  sin  and faith
         Emphasize centrality of will, choice, action  (HEART)
         Faith comes first, then virtue, then knowledge.
         Just knowing what is good is no guarantee that we will do it.
         Heart judges head. “Above all else, guard your heart; it is the wellspring of life”  (Proverbs 4:23)
5.  @ 500-1500:  Medieval Christian Synthesis  (Basic Christian Theism)
       managed to find a way of combining Hellenism and Hebraism
                                                                           head and heart
                                                                          intellect and will               
                                                                         faith and reason
         “a profound reinterpretation of Greek philosophy and morality.”
         The apex of philosophical realism, which holds that there is a real external world that can be known;
          Human beings created below God, angels; above animals, plants
6. 16th century: Renaissance
       an attempt to return to Hellenism, getting rid of medieval scholastic philosophy and theology;
         a return to the intellect exclusively,   "Man the measure of all things." Nominalism spurs the  
         Scientific Revolution, and further fuels reason.

7. 17th century: Reformation
       an attempt to return to Hebraism, to simpler pre-medieval NT Christianity:
       getting rid of Greek rationalism, Roman legalism; return to the will
        Nominalism becomes the default metaphysic of the west; views God as pure Will. The Reformers 
        are influenced by this idea of God and declare "sola fides."  Thus human beings 
        can only obey Him; they cannot understand Him.  Faith eclipses reason.
8. 18th century :  The Enlightenment /Deism
       reaction against reformation faith; scientism and rationalism as replacements triumph of head over heart, but  this head is trimmed down, secularized

         “Enlightenment rationalism cut the top off Greek ideals and kept the bottom;
                  cut off wisdom and kept logic; transformed reason into reasoning.”
         Scientific method became the method for achieving the summum bonum: the conquest of nature;
                  things are real insofar as they are measurable
         This period is now often referred to as “modernism.”
                  Hume’s skepticism= the logical conclusion of modernism

KANT:        attempts to reply to Hume, provide foundations once more for science, reason;
                   Result is a Copernican revolution in philosophy: the death of philosophical realism.
9.  19th century: [Romanticism], Nihilism, Existentialism
       reactions against Enlightenment rationalism; fallout from Kant's "Big Bang"
         Romanticism=triumph of heart over head, but a trimmed down, secularized heart
         “Romanticism’s heart was sentiment instead of will, and it was in relationship to nature, rather than 
         to God.”  Existentialism exalts the will; Nietzsche deifies it. 

10.  20th century:  Postmodernism/ Naturalism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism, New Age
         Postmodernism(or as some call it, hyper-Modernism) has come into its own in the past decade.
         It repudiates the rationalism and universal truth of  modernism, preferring individual perspectives 
        andrelativism (metaphysical, epistemological and moral.)  This opens the Pandora’s Box of 
        worldviews, but the main contenders seem to be falling out, and  they are naturalism; Eastern 
        Pantheistic monism and its half-breed stepchild, New Age thought; and finally, Christian Theism. 
         (Though one could argue whether it should rather be Theism in general, or Theisms in particular—
        Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

New artist: John August Swanson

I've just discovered a wonderful artist--John August Swanson. I love his "Peaceable Kingdom"

The Big Story

Wonderful video presentation of the gospel for those who accept modern science

Friday, April 08, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: what's wrong with the movie is what's wrong with us

This is the best review of that movie I have seen yet. Father Mike nails not only the movie, but us.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks awarded the Templeton Prize

The Templeton Prize is one of the most prestigious in the world. It was established in 1972 by the late Sir John Templeton, who said he wanted to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit”—individuals who have devoted themselves to deepening our understanding of human purpose and ultimate reality.
As the Templeton Prize website puts it, “The prize celebrates no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine.” The prize’s monetary award is £1,100,000 sterling (a little over $1.5 million currently).
Recipients have come from a variety of religious traditions (the Dalai Lama won it in 2012), but most have been Christians, and some, evangelicals (Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Charles Colson, to name three). This year the award was given to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. According to Templeton, he “has spent decades bringing spiritual insight to the public conversation through mass media, popular lectures and more than two dozen books.”
In particular it noted, “Central to his message is appreciation and respect of all faiths, with an emphasis that recognizing the values of each is the only path to effectively combat the global rise of violence and terrorism.” CT invited Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, to write about the significance of this prize for Sacks, since Volf himself has argued along similar lines in his recent, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.Volf is likely best known among CT readers for his now classic book on forgiveness and reconciliation: Exclusion and Embrace.
—The editors
I cannot think of a worthier person to receive the prestigious Templeton Prize than this year’s recipient, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. I am partial. I have known Rabbi Sacks for many years; I have shopped with him for Indian clothing in Amritsar; I have hosted him as a public lecturer for the “Life Worth Living” class that I co-teach at Yale; he serves on the Advisory Board for the Templeton-funded project at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture on “Theology of Joy and the Good Life”; and he has welcomed me as a dinner-guest at his home in London.
One need not be partial to recognize that Rabbi Sacks is one of the most significant public intellectuals today speaking in a distinctly religious voice. As his many books and public lectures attest, his brilliant intellect, deep devotion to his own religious tradition, and an exceptional ability to communicate ideas clearly combine to make his influence exceptional among his peers. All three of these qualities are amply demonstrated in his books, and especially in The Politics of Hope (1997), The Dignity of Difference (2002) and Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015). But he is not the only public intellectual with such qualities—and, significant as these qualities are, they would not have sufficed to earn him the Templeton Prize.
So why is Sacks such a worthy recipient of this honor, and more to the point here, why can evangelicals celebrate this as well? There are four main reasons, and they form an integrated whole in public philosophy.
I am partial in naming them, of course. Over the years—especially in A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos, 2011) and, most recently, in Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (Yale, 2016)—I have advocated very similar positions from a Christian perspective, sometimes in explicit conversation with Rabbi Sacks.
Committed religious people can agree, and when they disagree, they can do so in a civil way.
Against the backdrop of a common disrespect for difference either in secular critiques of religion or in shrill contentiousness among religious people, it is significant that two persons, both deeply rooted and strongly committed to their own tradition, can share so much about the importance of religious traditions in public life and the nature of their engagement for the common good. This commonality is doubly significant since, given the long history of Jewish/Christian relations, we would not have expected anything of the sort only a few decades ago. Committed religious people can agree, and when they disagree, they can do so in a civil way.
First, while recognizing extraordinary achievements of modernity, Sacks is at the same time aware of its limitations and insists that religion has an indispensible contribution to make. He writes, “None of the four great institutions of the modern age—science, technology, the market economy or the liberal democratic state—offers a compelling answer to the three great questions every reflective human being will ask at some stage in his life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?”
As citizens of modern democracies, educated in modern universities and working in market economies, we are experts at using sophisticated means to achieve desired ends, but we are amateurs when it comes to knowing what ends we should desire. As a result, we run hard but gain no ground in terms of fulfillment. Throughout the course of our lives, meaninglessness lurks at every turn. As Sacks puts it, the “21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”
Second, Sacks is persuaded that the most compelling answers to questions of human identity and purpose come especially from the great religious traditions. Why is it, asks Sacks, that great nations, economic systems, and entire cultures come and go in the course of history, but the great religious traditions perdure through millennia? It is because they give compelling answers—contestable and contested answers, of course, but compelling to millions—to questions like, “Why we are here?” and “What kind of world should we seek to create?”
I myself have put the matter this way in Flourishing: “Whatever else world religions might be, they are, at their heart, accounts of life worth living, of life being lived well, life going well, and life feeling good under the primacy of transcendence. Accounts of the good life are the most important gift world religions can give to the world.” The accounts of the good life in world religions often don’t agree with one another, but they are crucial options to be taken into consideration in the human search for the truth of our existence.
Sacks believes that “when religion turns men into murderers, God weeps.”
Third, religions are not inherently violent. Put slightly differently, it is not the case that hidden in every religious person is an extremist “waiting to happen.” True, he contends that “the greatest threat to freedom in the postmodern world is radical, politicized religion,” the face of what he calls “altruistic evil,” which is to say “evil committed in a sacred cause, in the name of high ideals.” But Sacks believes that “when religion turns men into murderers, God weeps.”
And religion does so most frequently when it turns political—not when it is merely politically engaged, but when there is no separation of religion and state, when religion functions as the transcendental justification of the state. In contrast, the great monotheist traditions, starting with Abraham, insist that “every human being, regardless of color, culture, class, or creed, was in the image and likeness of God” and therefore possesses equal dignity to any other human being and should be free in the choice of religion (or a-religion).
Fourth, religious people should have a public voice. This last point follows from the previous three, if one assumes that each person’s having a voice in public affairs—that some kind of democracy—is desirable. “I believe,” Sacks writes, “that religion, or more precisely, religions, should have a voice in the public conversation within the societies in the West, as to how to live, how to construct a social order, how to enhance human dignity, honor human life, and indeed protect a whole from environmental hazard.” Sacks is making two important and related points here.
First, he is rejecting both secular exclusion of religion from the public sphere and religious imposition of a single religion onto the entire public space; he is against any form of totalitarianism or authoritarianism, whether secular or religious.
Second, he is advocating for something like liberal political pluralism; we need political arrangements such that people divided along important and enduring lines of difference would be able to participate as equals in the search for the common good. That’s where the two moral convictions about human equality and freedom of religion come in. These two moral convictions, which significant streams of thought in other world religions share with major branches of contemporary Judaism and Christianity, are the key building blocks of pluralistic political order appropriate for a contemporary globalized world.
We live in an interconnected and highly interdependent world made of nation states that are, due to intense migration of people, highly diverse and often deeply divided along cultural and religious lines. In the West, we are presently witnessing a wave of resistance to “the stranger,” especially when that stranger gives allegiance to the Muslim faith.
“I think Islam hates us … There’s an unbelievable hatred of us,” said the immensely popular frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the presidential race, Donald Trump. That is certainly not true of “Islam,” but it is true of many Muslims. But what Trump is not saying, and what is evident from how he is acting, is that there is also a corresponding hatred of Islam and of Muslims in the West. Religious tensions are rife elsewhere as well, especially in Asia. Consider the following facts, which speak in cold numbers about the warm blood and tears of many:
  • 46 percent of the world population lives in countries with high or very high levels of social hostility involving religion.
  • Almost 75 percent of the world’s roughly 7 billion people live in countries with high levels of government restriction of freedom of religion.
  • In nearly 33 percent of countries, individuals were assaulted or displaced from their homes in retaliation for specific religious activities considered offensive or threatening to the majority religion, including preaching and other forms of religious expression.
  • In 30 percent of countries, religion-related terrorist groups were active in recruitment or fundraising.
Today, more than at any other time since World War II, we need people who do not only condemn extremism, but offer a vision, rooted in their own tradition, of a world in which people with deep disagreements inhabit a common space and work for the common good. If this is a call to people of all faiths, it is certainly a call to evangelicals, who like many others, seek to be peacemakers in a troubled world. Rabbi Sacks is such a person in the Jewish tradition, and he has articulated such a vision in a most compelling way. That’s why he deserves the Templeton Prize.