Monthly Archives: May 2011

Al Mohler and Patrick Schreiner on Seminary: Why Not Get All You Can?

I’ve enjoyed a recent round of posts on seminary from SBTS MDiv graduate Patrick Schreiner.  Patrick is a sharp thinker and writer.  I would encourage you to read his short, punchy posts on the seminary experience and how to do it well.

From his insightful blog, Ad Fontes:

“The windup of my 10 pieces of counsel:

  1. Take the hardest classes.
  2. Learn the Languages.
  3. Take some professors who will teach you the art of exegesis, and others who will teach you the science.
  4. Be in ministry/don’t be in ministry.
  5. Take teachers, not classes.
  6. Concerning grades.
  7. Stay away from distance learning.
  8. Take teachers who will teach you a method.
  9. Go for depth and breadth.
  10. Seek out a mentor. 
  11. In sum: Love God and do as you please.”

Here’s a snippet from number six that I thought was well-done:

Dr. Shawn Wright put it perfectly; “For some of you it would be a sin to get an A in this class, for others of you it would be a sin not to get an A.”

Dr. Wright understands everyone comes in with a different situation lingering behind the happy faces in class. Some are working full time, and have 3 kids at home, and taking a full load. Others are single and being supported from the outside.

Generally it is right to try to get good grades. You will probably learn more and get the most out of the classes by striving for A’s. Therefore study hard and learn the material.

However, at the same time, if you are not looking to get your PhD or teach, it does not matter as much. Few church search committees will bypass you because of a C on your transcript. (They rarely ask for the transcript).

For some, the most spiritual thing to do before a test, is to go home, take care of their kids, cook for their wives, and not study for the test tomorrow.

This is good stuff.  Many moons ago, I wrote a three part series on my own reflections from the Southern Seminary MDiv: Seasons of a Seminarian parts one, two, and three.  Glad to see other seminarians passing on advice about the long, hard, and highly rewarding task of completing an MDiv, the biggest, baddest master’s degree of them all.  There is a reason churches look for the MDiv.  It signifies that you have labored to gain tools for Christocentric ministry in order that you might “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

As Al Mohler said recently on a Gospel Coalition panel (listen to the panel audio with Mark Driscoll, Mohler, Ligon Duncan, David Helm, Bryan Chappell, and Don Carson), why would you not want to do all you could to prepare for the ministry of God’s Word, the most precious, complex, and meaningful endeavor one could undertake?  Why would you not get every drop of learning you can?

(Image: SBTS Archives)

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Church Membership Is Unimportant

That’s one line you’ll never hear from 9Marks, the ministry outfit helmed by Mark Dever. A few weeks back, 9Marks released a new eJournal on church membership. This is actually the first eJournal they’ve ever done on the topic. It’s quite good, featuring commentary from Matt Chandler, Jonathan Leeman, Matt Schmucker and more.

In a lengthy essay, I reviewed a book entitled The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons for the journal.  The text purports to offer a new way forward for evangelicals today, a more positive, social justice-focused way that is based in a restorative gospel.  Lyons is a gifted strategist and a nice writer, but his book demands engagement and critique on a number of fronts.  I’ll make no claims about quality, but as I said, the review essay does not lack in quantity: over 5000 words.  Happy Memorial Day to you, too.

Here’s a snatch from the review that engages the idea that Christians are just now discovering cultural engagement and philanthropy.  You sometimes hear this from young Christian leaders today, but church history tells a different story, as I argue:

[T]here are a good number of historic examples of Christians who desired “to do good” in the their culture and society as an outworking of their faith. Timothy George has said of the followers of John Calvin that “Like the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, Calvin’s followers forsook the religious ideal of stabilitas for an aggressivemobilitas. They poured into the cities, universities, and market squares of Europe as publishers, educators, entrepreneurs, and evangelists.”[21] Evangelicals have long been on the bleeding (not the leading) edge of philanthropy, cultural engagement and entrepeneurship. George Whitefield drew much of his living from the wealthy Countess of Huntingdon. The Sunday School was founded in America by Samuel Slater, owner of textile mills. The Clapham Sect and its protagonist, William Wilberforce, were supported by numerous English philanthropists.[22] The Tappan brothers single-handedly funded a substantial portion of the evangelical abolitionist cause in the 19th century. Moody Bible Institute was founded by the largesse of Henry Parsons Crowell, the man who also gave us Quaker Oats. Evangelical history is littered with gospel-minded Christians who used their wealth for noble ends, just as the apostles were supported by rich Christians—a point in favor of managing wealth wisely, not despising it (or spiritualizing poverty, on the other hand).

Evangelicals have historically showed great generosity to the needy. Douglas Sweeney has spoken to the benevolence of Jonathan Edwards, pointing out that “Edwards never made a show of it, but he loved to help the poor.” In addition to speaking about it from the pulpit, Edwards, in the words of his pupil Samuel Hopkins, “practis’d it” in private to such an extent that Hopkins judged that “his Alms-deeds…if known, would prove him to be as great an Instance of Charity as any that can be produced in this Age.”[23] The theology of Edwards included a hugely influential and largely unknown idea called “disinterested benevolence” that helped spawn what historians call the “benevolent empire” of the nineteenth century in which countless Christians, imbued with a love for God and his gospel, gave their time and money to what were called “benevolent societies.” This movement, profiled by Martin Marty, was one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the nineteenth century.[24] The National Association of Evangelicals, formed in 1942 and helmed by Harold Ockenga, included a substantial social outreach component.[25] Even the much-maligned fundamentalists of the twentieth century devoted considerable time and attention to mercy ministry, as Joel Carpenter has shown.[26] This trend continues into the present and recent past. Jerry Falwell, whose death signaled for Lyons the “death” of “Christian America,” founded a thriving, wide-ranging, and virtually unpublicized ministry to unwed pregnant mothers called the Liberty Godparent Home, among other ventures.

Here’s the whole kit-and-caboodle.

And once again, a warm and happy Memorial Day to all of you, one filled with remembrance of those who have sacrificed for our safety and flourishing.

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“They obviously love my son very much”: The Search for Matt Hill of Capitol Hill Baptist Church

Updated (5/29/11): Matt Hill has been found and is okay.  Details to come.  Praise God.

Some out there have seen the notice about Matt Hill of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.  He is a member of the church and the Campus Director of Campus Outreach ministry at George Washington University.  Matt has been missing for a few days now, which has stunned those who know him.  Please join people around the world in praying for Matt’s safe return.

Here’s the notice from one news outlet (HT: Challies):

On the morning of May 24, Matt Hill picked up GWU freshman Matthew DeGioia around 7 a.m. The two provided transportation for church member Shirley Luther who needed a transfusion at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. After breakfast at IHOP, the pair left the area around 9:30 a.m. and arrived back in D.C. about an hour later, according to DeGioia, who was dropped off at the local Verizon Center around that time.

Matt Hill told DeGioia he needed to be at Capitol Hill Baptist by 11:30 a.m., but he never arrived.

CHBC, located right in the heart of Capitol Hill, has become command center for the effort to find Matt:

Capitol Hill Baptist Church has served as a makeshift command post for the search. Members of the church and community have been searching the streets and made fliers to distribute with pictures and contact information.

Those involved have also been collecting tips and relevant information, some of which precede information the police receives, Holger Hill said.

“It’s been nothing short of incredible,” Holger Hill said. “The people here, they obviously love my son very much. There’s been an overwhelming display of concern.”

In the midst of the search to find this young man, I found this quote from Matt’s father deeply touching.  The church has displayed such love for Matt that his father gives testimony to it in the article.  This is a profound instance of the church loving one of its own and displaying that love to the world.  The love we share for one another, when we have nothing in common but Jesus Christ, is evangelistic and doxological to a degree I don’t think we fully comprehend (Matthew 5:16).

Please keep praying for Matt, and remember the powerful impression Christian love makes on the world.

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Mike Wittmer Tackles Rob Bell, Gospel-Centered Death, Thorn on Self-Preaching

Mike Wittmer of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has recently released Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins (Edenridge, 2011, lively foreword by Michael Horton).  I commend it to you.  This is the only book-length treatment of Bell’s Love Wins, a book that stirs up so much trouble it needs a book-length refutation.  Written by one of our best and most engaging systematic theologians, Christ Alone is worth reading on its own terms apart from its thorough scriptural and theological counter to Bell’s arguments and sloppy exegesis.

Here’s a snatch:

[T]he adjectival form of aion is the way the Greeks expressed our concept of “forever.”  Jesus said that those who believe in him with have zoen ainion–a life that never ends (John 3:16).  Jesus is not telling us that we will transcend time or be taken up into some higher, supernatural realm, for as bodily creatures we will always live within the boundaries of space and time.  We will never step outside of time into God’s realm, but we will live forever in our redeemed creation.  Scripture describes this as everlasting life, a life that begins in this age (aion) and continues through every age to come.  Thus, the biblical writers do understand “forever” as “a uniform measurement of time, like days and years, marching endlessly into the future,” and they describe this passing of time with the adjectival form of the term aion.  (37-38)

This kind of clear, compelling, richly informed answer is littered throughout Christ AloneBuy the book, and buy one for a confused friend.  And hope that in the future, Wittmer picks back up with his practice of titling his books according to eighties pop songs, which is one of the strongest commendations of his work I can think of (great blog, too).

Next up, with Phil Newton, Brian Croft has published Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals: Applying the Gospel at the Unique Challenges of Death (DayOne, 2011).  This is another practical text written by Croft that handles a needful matter of ministry: funerals.  Think about it.  Pastors will do many over the course of a career.  But what resources cover how to do them from a Christocentric perspective?  This is a needed and rich book.

Consider this excellent section on logistics of the service:

Depending on the situation, arrive at the location of the funeral service fifteen to thirty minutes before the funeral starts.  This allows you time to greet the family, check in with the funeral director, and ensure that plans haven’t changed since the director last talked with you (because they often do change).  This will also prevent what would be one of the most embarrassing moments of your ministry–being late to conduct a funeral (trust me–I know).  Inform the funeral director at this time whether you will ride with him to the gravesite or drive on your own in the procession.  Make sure that all those involved in the service are accounted for and have prepared what you have asked of them.  It is ideal to gather together others involved in the service a few minutes before starting in order to talk through the service, praying for the Lord to awaken souls to the gospel and comfort his hurting people.  (71)

As you can see, this is terrific counsel from a wise, godly undershepherd.  Pick up this little book and others like it (here and here).  You’ll thank Brian later.  Check out his helpful blog, too.

Do you preach to yourself?  You should.  Joe Thorn wants to help you do just that.  His Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Crossway/RE:LIT, 2011, foreword by Sam Storms) will guide you in this discipline that the Puritans championed.  The short, easy-to-read book packs a powerful punch in its 48 short chapters, each of which tackles a certain sin or struggle that requires self-exhortation to defeat.  Joe is a faithful pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois; his gifts show through in this book.

A snippet:

Dear Self,

You should be sowing more grace.  You should be more generous with your time, money, and gifts.  The people around you, especially those who are unfriendly or even cross, need grace.  Consider how you often give what you think is justice–that is, what you think people deserve.  You tip less for bad service, ignore people who have snubbed you, or sigh and roll your eyes at the person taking up too much space at the coffeehouse.  You may not be doing evil, but you are not doing good. (75)

You see how helpful this book is (as is Joe’s blog).  It avoids the mistake of thinking that because we prize the gospel, we don’t need direct, specific engagement with sin.  We desperately do.  In general, the perspective of the book challenges us to take dominion of our sins, not to wallow in them.  Everywhere we have a weakness, that is where God desires to work.  All the things that Satan intends to discourage us by, God intends to encourage us as through the power of his Spirit he kills our sin.

If you’re lazy, if you’re lustful, if you’re angry, if you’re gluttonous, if you’re a liar, if you’re critical, if you find it easy to hate and grow jealous, if you are passive, if you don’t read the Bible or pray, if you don’t serve the church–in these and 100,000 other areas, God desires to perform surgery.  Everywhere there is sin, there is an opportunity for Christocentric dominion over that sin.  Joe helps us to see this truth, and that in itself is more than enough to commend the book.

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Is The Gospel Coalition a Good Thing? Is Harold Ockenga Like John Piper?

You can find scintillating answers to these and a number of other questions in an interview (part one, part two) I just did with historical theologian Nathan Finn. Nathan graciously asked me several questions following the release of the book I edited with David Mathis of Desiring God, The Pastor as Scholar, the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Theology (Crossway, 2011, authored by John Piper and D. A. Carson–that’s Carson to the right speaking at the event that led to the book).

Nathan has released the interview in two parts–part one is on the forgotten Harold Ockenga and why he’s worthy of attention (and a dissertation!), and part two is about The Gospel Coalition, theological moves in the Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor-theologians.  I can’t speak to the helpfulness of my responses to Nathan’s great questions, but I can say that this was a very fun interview to do.

Nathan is a leading young scholar and historian teaching at the sister seminary of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He teaches a great deal at the highly esteemed First Baptist Durham, the reformed congregation led by Bostonian Dr. Andy Davis, a preacher worth hearing and emulating.  He has edited a number of books and chapters which I would commend to you.  Nathan likes Allison Krauss, Broadway musicals, and the Atlanta Braves, but we won’t hold that last one against him.  I’m grateful for Nathan and his scholarly, unapologetically theological ministry, which is a model for other young evangelical scholars.

I’ll leave you to surf over to Nathan’s site.  By the way, One Baptist Perspective is a fantastic church history resource.  Bookmark it or load it into your feed reader.  In the meantime, I’ll look forward with Nathan to seeing what the Lord does in the SBC and the evangelical movement more broadly to bring health to our churches.  It is my conviction that the rise and recovery of the pastor-theologian model is a major sign of future health for our churches.  I’m thrilled to see awareness of this historic model spreading, and I hope for many more young guns to catch this vision and storm the gates of hell on a mission of Christocentric dominion, possessing every tool and weapon attainable from ministry training in order to give glory to the Father.

(Image: the beloved Henry Center)

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Seinfeldisms: If You Can’t Call Someone Fat, Why Can You Call Them Short?

File this under Seinfeldisms.  If you can’t call someone fat, why can you call them short?

In a world full of confounding realities–how does photosynthesis happen?  Why do people enjoy the music of Neil Diamond?–this is a particularly tricky one.  I’m not tall, and I happen to know a number of people like me.  In discussion, we’ve learned that it’s quite common for a certain type of person to make remarks about height.  “You’re short, you can fit in that seat!”  “How short are you, anyway?”  “Were you always short?”  “Look–that kid is as tall as you are!  That’s hilarious!”  Remarks like this are commonplace.

But why?  Why is it acceptable to talk about how short people are to their face?  Okay, sure, if it’s in good fun, that’s fine.  But if you can rib someone about height in good fun, you can surely rib them about other topics in good fun.  “Hey, when did you get so fat?”  “Have you gained weight in recent years?”  “Has your face always been pudgy, or has that recently changed?”  “How’s the whole male pattern-baldness thing going for you?”  “Did you always have knock-knees, or has that developed over time?”  “Did it bother you being ugly when you were a child?  If so, how does it compare in adulthood?”  “Your eyes seem very small on your head.  Kind of freaky!”

These would all be terribly gauche comments in polite conversation.  Why, then, is it okay to call attention to a person’s shortness?  It’s a physical characteristic just like those I’ve humorously referenced above.  Yes, shortness is a rather obvious trait.  But so is ugliness, or baldness, or creeping obesity, or misshapenness.  For some reason, it’s okay to discuss a lack of height.  May I suggest that it should not be?

This happens all the time with children.  If you have smaller children, people often exclaim on seeing them, “She’s so little!”  I’m thinking, as a teaching moment, I may start responding, “Yes, and your baby is so pudgy!” or “He’s so alien-like!” or “She’s rather boyish, isn’t she?”  The same rule will apply if an adult makes a comment to me about my height.  “Have you always been short?” will be met with “Have you always carried a well-inflated tire around your midsection?” or “What does it feel like having cankles?”  I encourage fellow short people of the world to adopt this perspective and to push for Universal Height Equality.

If you’re reading this with high sensitivity, my tongue is in my cheek.  I don’t actually really encourage short people to respond in the manner I’ve laid out.  It’s probably not a great idea on the whole.  But the question is nonetheless relevant.  The principle behind it is real.  Shortness is no more deserving of the flouting of social politeness than any other physical trait.  There are people in my life who never fail to make a comment about height.  Every time they do, somewhere a bunny falls down dead.

By the way, a similar thing happens in sports.  If a short guy does well, it’s because he’s “scrappy” or “hustles” or “is cagey.”  Can short guys, including guys who can’t dunk, not be athletic?  Why can the highest height to which they rise (pun intended) be “scrappy?”  Aren’t there all sorts of athleticism outside of vertical leap or bench press?  What about hand-speed, foot-speed, hand-eye coordination, anticipation, first-step, ball-handling, depth perception, ability to handle and manage contact, and 1000 other ways of being athletic?  Many sports fans dumbly assume that it’s only the highest leaper who’s athletic.  That’s a mistake.

And yes, just to be snide, I included a picture of the fantastic 5’10″ Maverick JJ Barea scoring on 7’1″ Tim Duncan.  I couldn’t resist.  Go Mavs.

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Is It a Bad Idea to Study Philosophy in College?

Here’s an interesting report from the Washington Post that examines median salaries for college graduates of various majors.  The study, conducted by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, offers the following data:

According to the study, the median annual earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree in engineering was $75,000. The median wage was $47,000 in the humanities, $44,000 in the arts and $42,000 in education or in psychology.

The individual major with the highest median earnings was petroleum engineering, at $120,000, followed by pharmaceutical sciences at $105,000, and math and computer sciences at $98,000.

The lowest earnings median was for those majoring in counseling or psychology, at $29,000, and early childhood education, at $36,000. Workers with a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature, the most popular major within the humanities, have median earnings of $48,000.

This data led one professor (a poet!) to conclude that the humanities do not make cents (excuse me–sense):

“Education is so off-the-charts expensive now,” said poet and Florida International University professor Campbell McGrath. who noted that his son is considering an anthropology degree. “You are making a really weird decision if you decide to send your kids off to study philosophy. It would be a better world if we all studied the humanities. But it’s not a good dollars-and-cents decision.”

The article is worth considering in full.

This makes me think on a number of levels.  I went to a liberal arts college and studied history, a humanities discipline.  The study applies to me and many of my peers.  It strikes me that it could be a bad decision to study the liberal arts.  If you must take on a great deal of debt to do so, you might want to go elsewhere.  Too many college students make decisions about college based on emotional, not practical, criteria.  This is bolstered by a boosterist self-esteem culture that celebrates dreaming and denigrates rationality.  Those who need a slogan, in other words, to back up a perhaps irrational decision can find one.  “You only live once,” “live in the moment,” “don’t let the dream die,” and so on, all maxims that would make excellent classic rock song titles (which should be a major source of concern).  The problem with following such slogans when it comes to four-year collegiate decisions is that you can wake up the morning after with a blistering headache and a $100,000 tuition bill.

That may not be a huge problem if you’re planning on working as a chemical engineer for the rest of your life.  But many who would make such an ill-advised gamble won’t be making six figures within two years–or perhaps ever.  Debt is a far-off, weightless proposition when young, and a cold, hard, steely reality when old.  The descriptor often attached to it is “crippling,” and it is so for a reason.

How does this relate to the topic at hand?  Parents and students need to be a bit more practical about the decision to go to college.  Does this mean, though, that one should not study philosophy?  I say no.  The traditional liberal arts curriculum is a sensational way to learn.  It exposes the mind to all sorts of important ideas that one would not otherwise encounter.  But perhaps one should not study such a course at the most expensive school possible.  Perhaps one should take out less debt and earn a slightly less prestigious degree in order to be able to live and move and have one’s being in the future.

The problem, it seems to me, is not studying philosophy.  That’s a great major.  The problem comes when one studies philosophy and goes $95,000 into debt to do so.  That is a very tricky matter, because only the creme de la creme will earn enough in a reasonable amount of time to pay back such a sum.

In a period that still experiences the effects of a recession, Christians are reminded of just how practical such a course is–and how biblical.  We sometimes read Scripture to enfranchise our ambitions, inflate our hopes.  But the Bible is on-the-ground practical.  There is a time to roll the dice, so to speak.  There are risks worth taking.  But we do well to remember Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”  We have been freed from slavery to sin by the cross-work of Jesus Christ.  We should be very wary of other masters who would rule us, promising perfect fulfillment, the achievement of all our dreams, and a degree that will open every door.

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The Man Who Stole Hitler’s Pistol

John Woodbridge of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has just published a book with Pulitzer-prize winning journal Maurice Possley that tells a fascinating story: how a gun owned by Adolf Hitler ended up in the possession of his family.  That is already an interesting tale, but the book, entitled Hitler in the Crosshairs: A GI’s Story of Courage and Faith (Zondervan, 2011) delves into another story, the strange and faith-building life of an unknown man named Teen Palm, who before helping bring back the gun had traveled a twisting path that led to Jesus Christ.

Here’s what a brief review at Christianity Today said about the book:

Many evangelicals know church historian John Woodbridge for his masterful scholarship. Surely very few know about his personal connection to an astounding World War II heirloom: a golden pistol owned by Adolf Hitler. Nearly six years ago, a news notice of the weapon’s impending auction triggered a flashback, sending Woodridge scrambling to locate surviving relatives of the devout young soldier who snatched it up and gave it to his father. With award-winning journalist Maurice Possley, Woodbridge reconstructs the adventures of Ira “Teen” Palm—whose team raided Hitler’s Munich apartment—and the golden gun this man of faith found in lieu of the Führer.

Collin Hansen at the Gospel Coalition had this to say:

[T]his is a book about Teen Palm’s Christian faith, which sustained him through the travails of war as friends fell before him. This is a book about Hitler’s pistol, its discovery, theft, and present-day whereabouts. But the authors seek to do much more. They juxtapose Palm’s life, recounted primarily through letters sent to and received from his affectionate wife, with Hitler’s chilling rise to power in Germany. The contrast illustrates how hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers helped bring down one of history’s most notorious mass murderers.

I look forward to reading this book in full.  I got to read draft chapters while at TEDS and thoroughly enjoyed them.  This one would be a great summer beach-read.  It’s also an example of how a Christian can tell a compelling and accessible story that many people will find interesting.

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Christianity Today Article: Atheist Chaplains in Foxholes?

I just had the privilege of writing an article for the Christianity Today Theology in the News column.  Collin Hansen wrote this column for several years.  As one who loved Collin’s essays and counts him a dear friend, it’s an honor to be able to contribute.  That honor is compounded by the fact that the founding of CT is a part of my doctoral research at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  It’s very cool to be writing for the magazine that Carl Henry, the most significant conservative theologian of the postwar period, began in league with Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga (the three horsemen of the neo-evangelical movement).

The article is entitled “Atheists in the Foxholes–as Chaplains” and was just published today.  I won’t give the store away, but will give you a snippet of the longer piece here.  Here’s the intro:

The military chaplain is a staple of the armed forces. Many have suggested that the sense of mortality that one feels as bullets fly and bombs explode lends itself naturally to prayer and supplication of a divine being. The axiom “there are no atheists in foxholes” emerged based on battlefield scenarios.

There may soon be atheist chaplains in foxholes, however. A recent story in The New York Times, titled “Atheists Seek Chaplain Role in the Military,” covered recent efforts by atheist members of the armed forces to secure chaplaincy positions for atheists. More than 9,000 military personnel self identify as atheist or agnostic, the Times reports, and some claim that many more members of the military adhere to these camps without reporting their preference. Conversely, about 1 million troops say they are Christians. They represent roughly 70 percent of troops and about 90 percent of chaplains.

Another section raises some questions about the pretty tricky matter of how atheist chaplains can offer meaningful support to theists:

The trickiest matter raised in the Times piece and Associated Press coverage of this effort relates to how atheist chaplains in, for example, the Army can fulfill the stated requirement that they not only serve “their own faith groups in the Army” but “also ensure and provide the means for others to observe their own faith in accordance with US law and regulations.” All religious groups make absolutist claims of one kind or another. But how can a belief system—or is it a lack of belief system?—championed by figures like Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens support Christian soldiers in any meaningful sense? When considering chaplains who support Hitchens’s rather broad contention that “religion poisons everything,” how can such leaders “provide the means for others to observe their own faith”? If Christians are indeed suffering from a “God delusion,” as Dawkins has suggested, how can a chaplain who promotes Dawkins’s ideas offer belief-respecting encouragement to a Christian soldier?

Here’s the whole piece.  Hope it stimulates some thought.  This phrase has been used many times before, but it fits the topic at hand: we are living in “strange times.”  It’s unusual to see atheists desiring to be chaplains, to say nothing but the very least.  The issue raised in the piece is a real one–is atheism a belief system that can play nice with others, or is it built to attack, by nature a predatory worldview fundamentally intolerant of all others? I make the case that Christianity, for example, has far more resources by which to tolerate other religions and views than atheism does.

At base, when the bullets are flying, do you want an atheist chaplain to help you?  Do you want a chaplain at all?  Interesting questions for those who worship the God who rules over all the earth, including the battlefield.

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Redefining Bluegrass: Sarah Jarosz and the New Bluegrass Contemporarists

Have you heard of Sarah Jarosz?  If not, you should check her out.  She’s part of an interesting develop in modern music.  Call it “classical bluegrass.”  NPR recently did a story on Jarosz and this developing sound, suggesting that her brand of performance is the child of a marriage between classical music schools and traditional bluegrass.

If you like music, this is interesting stuff.  The NPR piece tells the story:

The New England Conservatory, the oldest free-standing music school in the U.S., is not a place you’d have been likely to find a bluegrass-trained artist just a few years ago. But, like the artist herself, the school is stretching out.

“The program I’m in is called Contemporary Improvisation, and it’s kind of the development of your personal style,” Sarah Jarosz says. “Last year, I was in a world music ensemble and a Jewish music ensemble, which is really fun, like klezmer and Yiddish folk music. And as a vocalist, that’s really pushed me to use my voice in a way I’d normally never use my singing voice.”

The piece also details the specific influences on her style:

For her part, Jarosz says there’s no easily drawn line between her studies and the songs on her new album — titled Follow Me Down — but that she feels more confident in her singing and versatile in her writing. The folk influences shine through, as she plays her banjo in pre-bluegrass style and channels Edgar Allan Poe.

Jarosz also composes instrumentals that nod to what some have called “chamber-grass.” She plays octave mandolin with a bass, cello, violin and dobro star Jerry Douglas, one of her heroes and a pioneer of this hybrid American sound.

I’ve listened to Jarosz’s music and found it compelling and fresh.  You can listen to it for free here.  This is her artist page.  “Chamber-grass,” “classical bluegrass,” or whatever else you call it, it’s worth hearing out.  Bluegrass features some of the most thoughtful songwriting around, often delving into expressly spiritual themes.  Jarosz fits this bill; her work is good driving music, thinking music, reading music.

(Photo: Simon Simontacchi/NPR)

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