Mere Fidelity: The Olympics and the Ethics of Watching Sports

Mere FiOn this episode of Mere Fidelity, Philosopher Michael Austin joins us to discuss the Olympics, sport, and whether we should watch any of it anyway. Austin is the editor of a variety of volumes on philosophy and sport, is a frequent writer at Psychology Today, and is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University.

The excerpt Alastair read is below, and is taken from this article:

In their beliefs, Coubertin and his followers were liberals in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. Deeply suspicious of conventional theistic religions, they promoted Olympism as a substitute for traditional faith. “For me,” Coubertin wrote in his Mémoires Olympiques, “sport is a religion with church, dogma, ritual.” In a radio address delivered in Berlin on August 4, 1935, he repeated his frequently expressed desire that the games be inspired by “religious sentiment transformed and enlarged by the internationalism and democracy that distinguish the modern age.” Nearly thirty years later, Coubertin’s most dedicated disciple, Avery Brundage, proclaimed to his colleagues on the International Olympic Committee that Olympism is a twentieth-century religion, “a religion with universal appeal which incorporates all the basic values of other religions, a modern, exciting, virile, dynamic religion” (pp. 2-3).

Here’s the show. We hope you enjoy:

Soli Deo Gloria

Theology As Discipleship by Keith Johnson (Themelios)

theology as discipleshipThere are few laments more frequently raised in the evangelical academy than the divorce between the academy and the church, or between the life of piety and that of theological scholarship. Indeed, it is not uncommon for pastors to admit that seminary was one of the most spiritually difficult times in their lives, precisely because the pursuit of academic rigor in theology, by its very nature, seemed to choke out the spiritual life. Moreover, the relevance of the theological task seems distant from the life of faith for the average congregant.

Drawing on years teaching theology to undergraduates, in Theology as Discipleship, Wheaton College professor Keith L. Johnson attempts to articulate a vision for the theological task as “integrally related” to the life of discipleship to Jesus Christ (p. 12). Aimed at introductory theology courses, pastors, and interested lay-people, the result is an elegant, biblically-attuned, classically-oriented, yet uncluttered text inviting the novice (as well as the seasoned initiate) to view theology in the sweep of God’s saving economy to renew all things through Christ and the Spirit.

You can read the rest of this review online in the latest issues of Themelios.

Soli Deo Gloria

Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne

rankinThe heart of the New Testament gospel is the idea of union with Christ. All of the benefits of salvation (justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification) we only receive as we are “in Christ.” It is the doctrine without which all these other truths is not good news.  Unsurprisingly, then, you can’t read Paul, John, Peter, or even the words of Jesus himself without tripping over these references.

And more and more, theologians and biblical scholars are recognizing this and putting it at the center of their expositions of Scripture and biblical truth, with a number of helpful volumes on the subject having been written in the last few years. For instance, just this year, Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ was an excellent entry into putting “union with Christ” back at the center.

Sadly, though, it seems to have been a very slow trickle-down effect for this glorious recovery reaching the practical preaching of the pulpit and the life of the pews. The books are aimed at either other theologians, or at pastors who might grasp the value, but struggle to work the riches of this biblical truth into their regular preaching.

It is at just this point that Rankin Wilbourne wants to step in with his new book Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God. His aim is to take the doctrine of union with Christ out of the murky shadows and place it front and center, not only of the discussions of academics and theologians, but everyday Christians wanting to learn how to close the gap between what they read about the Christian life in the New Testament and the reality they experience in their regular walk with Jesus.

(Now, you may be wondering, “who is Rankin Wilbourne?” Wilbourne’s a pastor at Pacific Crossroads Church in LA whom I only know about because my pastor used to work with him and because of his awesome cowboy name. In any case, when my pastor handed me his book and told me to read it, I gave it a shot since I figure he knows I don’t have too much time to waste on cruddy books during my summer of learning German.)

I have to say, I’m very grateful that he did. Wilbourne’s book was a great read for me and came at just the right time. I mostly read it in the mornings before studying and, like with Jen Wilkin’s book, it proved to be a real source of spiritual assurance and up-building during that time.

What’s in the book, then? Well, a little bit of everything to be honest. Wilbourne covers a wide range of topics, precisely because he (rightly) knows that union with Christ touches just about everything.

So, of course, there’s chapters on union with Christ in the Bible, and chapters on union with Christ in church history (turns out its all over it), and a couple of chapters on why we struggle with the concept (very helpful for cultural observers, by the way). But the bulk of the book is how union with Christ affects your real life, covering everything from your identity, to your approach to spiritual practices, to suffering, and even the way you look at the Church.

With that terrible summary out of the way, I’ll give you a few highlights or reasons you should give it a shot.

First, Wilbourne knows the importance of the imagination for spiritual life. Right of the bat, actually, Wilbourne shows you that he knows we think, we feel, we live out of the depths of our imaginations—our ability to piece together the world, or whatever reality we’re thinking of, into synthetic wholes. Which is why, he notes, the New Testament gives us so many metaphors, so many pictures, for our salvation in union with Christ.

Wilbourne leans full tilt into that reality by spending time unpacking biblical metaphors, creating and deploying helpful, lively new pictures of his own to drive home and inhabit these spiritual truths. I’ve never heard him preach, but I think I have a fair idea of what it would look like now.

And actually, preachers, this is something you ought to pay attention to (especially if you’re a youngster like I am)—learn the art of the key illustration that helps your congregation actually grasp the truths of Scripture in a vital, living manner. This book is full of good examples of how to do that.

Also, this means that this is a book you can put in someone’s hands without worrying if it’s going to be too over their heads, or jargon-filled, or technical.

Second, Wilbourne is a pastor. To be honest, I don’t think he says much “new” when it comes to the doctrine itself. He’s basing it on a lot of the most recent scholarship (Billings, Campbell, Letham, etc) as well as what the classic teachers of history (Calvin, Owen, Scougal, etc) have said. What he does do that’s “new” is the application of these broad truths to our late modern culture.

I know I keep beating this horse from different angles, but the ability to take and apply this deeply Biblical truth to a broad variety of questions and struggles that actual members of our churches are working through is a great gift. Wilbourne has that gift in spades.

To sum up, if you want to understand the good news of union with Christ, to walk into the heart of enjoying God through Christ, Wilbourne’s Union with Christ is a good place to start.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity – Satire: Its Uses & Abuses (w/ Karen Swallow Prior)

Mere FiSatire has been around for a while. It’s taken a new life, especially, through the rise of sites like The Onion. But it has been something of a hot topic lately for Evangelicals with the rise of the new site, The Babylon Bee. So we decided to have a little chat about it with our friend and literary expert, Karen Swallow Prior. This was a very fun show and I think you’ll enjoy it.

We mention Jonathan Swift’s famous essay “A Modest Proposal” on this show,  as well as this analysis of ‘punching up’ in American comedy.

If you enjoy this, please feel free to tweet, share, etc.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: Understanding Meritocracy

Mere FidelityOn this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity, Alastair, Andrew, and I discuss a recent article by Helen Andrews on the subject of meritocracy and the way it has replaced (and in some ways replicated) the older Aristocratic order. You should take the time to read it. It’s a fascinating piece. In any case, we take it up and discuss it more broadly and then in relation to the church. Because that’s what we do.

Hope you enjoy.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Church Usher’s Vital Priestly Role

usher

Ushers have long occupied a place of solemn glory in the church—and by “usher,” I don’t simply mean “door greeter” (though these men and women are valuable servants as well). I’m talking about the old-school troop of reverend men who show up in suits every Sunday, keep watch at the sanctuary doors, and—in hushed tones and with sure gestures—direct you to your seat in the house of the Lord.

I suppose part of the reason for my sense of awe at ushers is that my dad was one when I was a little kid—head usher, in fact. On Sundays, he and his fellows directed the seating, the offering collection, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper. In his charcoal grey three-piece, he used to diagram the other ushers’ respective territories and movement patterns with a geometer’s precision (he’s an engineer, so naturally he diagrammed everything).

You can finish reading the rest of the piece at The Local Church

Soli Deo Gloria

Leithart’s 6 Criteria For A Successful Atonement Theology (+ 2 Of My Own)

Delivered from the elements cover.jpgWhen you read enough works on the work of Christ, to start to get a feel for the questions involved. What conditions must be met for this to qualify as a proper, full, or adequate explanation of  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Anselm famously thought the root question you had to answer was, “Why did God become man?” You can give all sorts of explanations for what Jesus’ activities meant, but if they didn’t justify the conclusion “for this, God needed to become man”, then you need to go back to the drawing board.

Peter Leithart has written a new book about atonement theology. Well, when you look at the title (Delivered From the Elements: Atonement, Justification, and Mission), you realize it’s about a lot more than that, but that’s still the main subject.

In reflecting on it, Leithart has come up with six criteria that he believes must be satisfied if we’re going to get a proper grip on our question:

Historically plausible: Atonement theology is an interpretation of events, not a recital of “bare facts,” which is impossible in any case. But that interpretation must make sense of the historical events, not by transcending phenomena into a noumenal realm of meaning, but by tracing and perhaps extrapolating the logic of the events. Successful atonement theology must, for instance, make sense of Jesus as a figure in the first-century Judaism dominated by Rome. A successful atonement theory has got to show how the death and resurrection of Jesus is the key to human history, which means that atonement theory has to provide and account of human history: It has to be a theory of everything.

Levitical: A successful atonement theology treats Jesus’ death (at least) as a sacrifice, and it must be able to show that Jesus’ sacrifice fulfills Levitical ritual in historical events.

Evangelical: Successful atonement theology must arise from within the Gospel narratives rather than be an imposition from outside (even a Pauline outside).

Pauline: Atonement theology must make sense of the actual words and sentences and arguments in Paul’s letters.

Inevitable: A successful atonement theology should leave the impression of inevitability: “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Lk. 24:26 NASB). Jesus should appear to be the obvious divine response to the human condition. Like the denouement of a well-constructed drama, the cross and the resurrection should emerge as the most fitting climax to the history of Israel among the nations, as the climax of the history of sacrifice.

Fruitful: A successful atonement theology must offer a framework for making sense not only of the history of Jesus but also of the subsequent history of the church and of the world. It must, for instance, not shrink from addressing the apparent failure of the atonement, the palpable fact that the world Jesus is said to have saved is self-evidently not saved. (19-20)

In surveying them, I have to say, I find it hard to disagree with them. Even that last one, which is probably the greatest stretch in terms of having burst the typical bounds of systematic focus on the work of Christ, leaves an impression on the mind after considering it for a while, “Yes, yes, you should be able to draw some line from that point to the present moment if this event really is the cosmos-shattering cataclysm that Christian preaching has always claimed it is.”

I suppose I’ll follow up by adding couple of my own criteria in something of an Anselmian key.

First, comes a Christological criteria. For your atonement theology to be successful, it must be able to say why Jesus had to be God who became a man for our sake. Why did Christ have to have all the attributes and qualities and exalted titles and power that the New Testament accords him in order to accomplish what he did? In other words,  Leithart’s criteria for atonement theology  are, for the most part, explicitly concerned with making sense of the plot. I’m saying, we also need to explicitly call for a careful account of the characters.

Which brings me to the second criteria, and that is the theological one. For a successful atonement theology, you need to be able to give something of a sketch of the kind of God who would and could become man and why. This is true both for sorts of moral attributes you might think are involved (love, justice, holiness, fidelity), as well as the “metaphysical” ones (impassibility, infinity, etc). And, of course, not only the attributes of God, but his personal being: does your atonement theology assume or dispense with God’s trinitarian being? Must atonement be accomplished by Father, Son, & Spirit, or can we get by with a monad or a binity?

Since I have a full review of Leithart’s work coming at another publication, I’ll simply conclude by saying that it’s Leithart’s ability to ask these sorts of penetrating questions that makes Delivered from the Elements such a stimulating and wide-ranging read. Well worth the time of any serious student of atonement theology.

Soli Deo Gloria