Tag Archives: Christianity

Critical Christianity

Recently I have been struck by the number of non-thinking Christians. Christianity is not simply a cultural affiliation for those raised in the Western Tradition. It is a distinctive Weltanschaaung with non-trivial implications. The problem with compartmentalized Christians is that their faith and their thinking are seen as two separate affairs which negatively affects both their faith and their thinking. Their faith is naive, and their thinking is deficient. While I agree that the foundational truths of Christianity (i.e. those necessary for salvation) are understandable to 13 year olds, I also believe that faith and reason are not incompatible, and furthermore that worshiping God with our minds is actually a command, and thus not an optional extra.

This is expressed so wonderfully in Bethlehem Seminary’s Core Values:

“If God has inspired a Book as the foundation of the Christian faith, there is a massive impulse unleashed in the world to teach people how to read. And if God ordained for some of that precious, God-breathed Book to be hard to understand, then God also unleashed an impulse to teach people how to think about what they read—how to read hard things and understand them, and how to use the mind in a rigorous way. Therefore, we endeavor in all of our intellectual inquiry to love God with our minds by thinking deeply and humbly about his word and his works.”

Tim Keller provides a great example of this in his discussion on ““Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” (PDF) where he asks “How do we correlate the data of science with the teaching of Scripture?”  Also watch the debate between Professor Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop Rowan Williams on “The nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin.” If Christianity is such a big part of your life, why haven’t you thought about it at least as much as all the other areas?

Reading roundup.

  • “This is not just a problem of the need for more money or doing what we are doing better,” says Berdegué. “The challenge that we all have today is to decide what kind of development we should aim for and what we need to make that happen.”

Abolition of Slavery: morality > economy ?

“A deep stain on Christian history is the African slave trade. Since Christianity was dominant in the nations that bought and sold slaves during that time, the churches must bear responsibility along with their societies for what happened. Even though slavery in some form was virtually universal in every human culture over the centuries, it was Christians who first came to the conclusion that it was wrong. The social historian Rodney Stark writes:

“Although it has been fashionable to deny it, anti-slavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over strenuous papal opposition, a fact that was conveniently ‘lost’ from history until recently. Finally, the abolition of New World slavery was initiated and achieved by Christian activists.”

Christians began to work for abolition not because of some general understanding of human rights, but because they saw it as violating the will of God. Older forms of indentured servanthood and the bond-service of biblical times had often been harsh, but Christian abolitionists concluded that race-based, life-long chattel slavery, established through kidnapping, could not be squared with biblical teaching in either the Old Testament or the New. Christian activists such as William Wilberforce in Great Britain, John Woolman in America, and many, many others devoted their entire lives, in the name of Christ, to ending slavery. The slave trade was so tremendously lucrative that there was enormous incentive within the church to justify it. Many church leaders defended the institution. The battle for self-correction was titanic.

When the abolitionists finally had British society poised to abolish slavery in their empire, planters in the colonies foretold that emancipation would cost investors enormous sums and the prices of commodities would skyrocket catastrophically. This did not deter the abolitionists in the House of Commons. They agreed to compensate the planters for all freed slaves, an astounding sum up to half the British government’s annual budget. The Act of Emancipation was pased in 1833, and the costs were so high to the British people that one historian called the British abolition of slavery ‘voluntary econocide.’

Rodney Stark notes how historians have been desperately trying to figure out why the abolitionists were willing to sacrifice so much to end slavery. He quote the historian Howard Temperley, who says that the history of abolition is puzzling because most historians believe all political behaviour is self-interested. Yet despite the fact that hundreds of scholars over the last fifty years have looked for ways to explain it, Temperley says, ‘no one has succeeded in showing who campaigned for the end of the slave trade…stood to gain in any tangible way…or that these measures were other than economically costly to the country‘. Slavery was abolished because it was wrong, and the Christians were the leaders in saying so. Christianity’s self-correcting apparatus, its critique of religiously supported acts of injustice, had asserted itself.”

From Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God

Book review: The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom

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I’ve just finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and what a wonderful book it has been. Corrie was a Dutch watchmaker during the second world war. The biography of this incredible woman reads like a conversation you might have with your grandfather or some other old, insightful person who seems to ooze wisdom and life experience. The story centers on the the Ten Boom family and its involvement in the Dutch underground movement which aimed to help Jews and those being persecuted by the Germans, with the second half of the book about her time in concentration camps and her rehabilitation work after the war was over.

The book canvases everything from heart-break, poverty and oppression to hope, forgiveness and new beginnings. To read the conversations and thought-life of this remarkable woman opened my eyes to what it must be like to be a person of deep faith in troubling times. And yet what I found most endearing about the book is that she is so honest and human – complete with insecurities and failures. When she is filled with anger towards the Germans and her sister starts praying for them she simply prays: “Oh Lord,” I whispered, “listen to Betsie, not me, because I cannot pray for those men at all.”

I would recommend this book to any Christian who needs to regain perspective on their world. On numerous occasions I was tangibly moved by their Christian responses to unspeakable horrors. Sharing what little they had in concentration camps, praying for their oppressors, and (after the war) rehabilitating prisoners and German soldiers by providing opportunities for forgiveness and healing.

Some quotes from the book:

When she was in solitary confinement:

“And I was not alone much longer: into my solitary cell came a small, busy black ant. I had almost put my foot where he was one morning as I carried my bucket to the door when I realized the honor being done me. I crouched down and admired the marvelous design of legs and body. I apologized for my size and promised I would not so thoughtlessly stride about again. “

When she was being interrogated by a German lieutenant in the concentration camp and was explaining her pre-war Bible study with mentally handicapped people:

“The lieutenant’s eyebrows rose higher and higher. “What a waste of time and energy!” he exploded at last. “If you want converts, surely one normal person is worth all the half-wits in the world!” I stared into the man’s intelligent blue-gray eyes: true National-Socialist philosophy, I thought, tulip bed or no. And then to my astonishment I heard my own voice saying boldly, “May I tell you the truth, Lieutenant Rahms?” I knew it was madness to talk this way to a Nazi officer. But he said nothing so I plunged ahead. “In the Bible I learned that God values us not for our strength or our brains but simply because He has made us. Who knows, in His eyes a half-wit may be worth more than a watchmaker. Or-a lieutenant.”

When Corrie’s family is unexpectedly brought into the concentration camp for the reading of her late father’s will (a requirement of Dutch law that the Nazi’s were oddly unwilling to break), her sister smuggles a package into the prison and surreptitiously gives it to her in the midst of an embrace. When Corrie generously gave away her last Gospel to a fellow inmate the day before, she had no idea that she would be briefly seeing her family the following day and that they would smuggle in an entire Bible for her:

“Swiftly I opened the package that Nollie had pressed into my hand with the first embrace. It was what my leaping heart had told me: a Bible, the entire Book in a compact volume, tucked inside a small pouch with a string for wearing around the neck as we had once carried our identity cards. I dropped it quickly over my head and down my back beneath my blouse. I couldn’t even find words with which to thank her: the day before, in the shower line, I had given away my last remaining Gospel.”

and some other quotes:

“More time passed. I kept my eyes on the ant hole, hoping for a last visit from my small friends, but they did not appear. Probably I had frightened them by my early dashing about. I reached into the pillowcase, took one of the crackers, and crumbled it about the little crack. No ants. They were staying safely hidden. And suddenly I realized that this too was a message, a last wordless communication among neighbors. For I, too, had a hiding place when things were bad. Jesus was this place, the Rock cleft for me. I pressed a finger to the tiny crevice.”

“Perhaps a long, long time. Perhaps many years. But what better way could there be to spend our lives?” I turned to stare at her. “Whatever are you talking about?” “These young women. That girl back at the bunkers. Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes….”

“They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A single meeting might include a recital of the Magnificat in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a sotto-voce chant by Eastern Orthodox women. With each moment the crowd around us would swell, packing the nearby platforms, hanging over the edges, until the high structures groaned and swayed. At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the lightbulb. I would think of Haarlem, each substantial church set behind its wrought-iron fence and its barrier of doctrine. And I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”

“There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s kingdom. I could hear her soft voice saying it. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.”

“When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. “

Years after she has left the concentration camp and started her rehabilitation centers, Corrie goes back to visit Ravensbruck and finds out something amazing:

“Corrie learned that her own release had been part of a clerical error; one week later all women her age were taken to the gas chamber.”

“What feeds the soul matters as much as what feeds the body.”