Self-possession and the Folly of Idolatry

Luke Timothy Johnson’s book Sharing Possessions (Eerdmans, 2011) has one of the most searching and profound discussions of idolatry that I have ever come across.  I hope to be sharing more from this extraordinary book in the weeks to come, but for now, here’s one powerful and convicting passage that every Christian should read:

“Some questions like the following may help us get the point: What is it, really, that enables us to get up and face each day’s activity? What is it that we will make room for during the day, no matter how busy our schedule? By what measure do I look back over the day, or week, or year, and consider it a success or a failure? In the daily round, is the high point the end of work and the beginning of leisure? The first drink? Is that which I will fit into my schedule no matter what my three-mile jog? When I lie awake in my bed with a feeling of discontent, is it because I did not get done all the work I intended to do that day, or did not get some time to myself, or did not spend time with my children and wife, or looked foolish in a conference, or dread facing a job interview tomorrow? When I look at others of my own generation, as I suspect we all do, and think about ‘where I am’ in my life, what measurement do I use? Do I think of myself as a success or failure in relation to others, and on what basis—my health, my wealth, my work (process or product), my fame, my family, my power over others, my good looks? These are not complicated questions, but they are, for most of us, difficult ones, for they have a way, cumulatively, of locating our center. . . . For, if idolatry is a functional phenomenon, the real question comes when I ask, ‘Where is it that the meaning and power of my individual human life is sought? In what or where do I seek my sense of worth and identity? What is it, seen or unseen, which is the “bottom line” for me, the source of my hope? What is it without which life would not be worth living? What is it for which I move and act, without which I stumble and fall? What gets me depressed? What is it, in my actual life, that functions as my god?’


Read More

Everyman’s Hooker #1: “To Pass Away as in a Dream…”

This week, I am beginning a new project here at this blog, which I hope to keep up with on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future.  I’m calling it “Everyman’s Hooker,” and it’s an attempt to make the thought of Richard Hooker, specifically his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, accessible to general audiences. Hooker had a beautiful, but notoriously difficult, writing style even for his own time, and with the passage of 400 years, even highly educated readers of modern English often find it difficult to get a handle on just what he’s saying. We have reached the odd and unfortunate point that authors like Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin, who wrote even longer ago and not in English, should be much easier for contemporary English readers to engage with than one of the great masters of their own language, Hooker. Why? Because we have modern translations of the former, but not the latter. The best we have is a mere modernization of spelling, by A.S. McGrade, which is priced way too highly for most readers to even dream of buying.

It might be a bit impertinent to try to publish a fully paraphrased version of Hooker’s great work, not to mention being an enormous amount of work, but for now I have a more modest goal: to introduce readers to a few key ideas and passages, beginning with the first page of the Laws, and moving along from high point to high point, posting a paraphrase and commentary once a week. I recognize that to paraphrase Hooker at all is something of an abomination, given the exquisitely-crafted nature of his prose, but I’ve finally come to realize that this is a necessary evil if Hooker is ever really to be introduced to the wide readership he deserves. I will do my best to maintain as much as possible the eloquence of the original.

Each post will begin with the original text, in the mostly-modernized spelling and punctuation of the 19th-century edition of Hooker available at the Online Library of Liberty. Then I will provide a paraphrased version, paragraph by paragraph, along the lines of what you might find in Shakespeare Made Easy, followed by a bit of commentary on what we can learn today from this passage.  Once I figure out how, I’ll format the two versions of the passage in a double-column style, side-by-side, but for now, it’ll just be one underneath the other.  Some passages will be more difficult, and thus in much more obvious need of paraphrase, than others, but I will not try to prioritize on this basis, instead just following the order of the text.

So, without further ado, here is the first, taken from the first chapter of the Preface to the Laws. Read More

On Defunding and the Diversity of Gifts: Some More Thoughts on the Planned Parenthood Outrage

Last week, in response to some heated discussions I had observed on Facebook, I tried to weigh into the whole discussion over the Planned Parenthood videos with “Seven Thoughts on the Planned Parenthood Outrage.” My post was more a reflection on how we in evangelical communities have responded, and should respond, to the Center for Medical Progress’s revelations, than it was a reflection on the revelations per se (others having already written many fantastic articles on that front). For me, the particularly pressing question is how we, as individuals and communities, can handle this strategic opportunity to unmask evil without blowing it by poor tactics, and without dissipating our energies in internal dissensions, as we are so often prone to do.

I have been wrestling with these thoughts further since my initial post, and two things have prompted me to reconsider, clarify, and elaborate some of the points there, though in rather different directions. There are really two separate posts here, but given the polarizing nature of this subject, I am going to keep them together in one, imploring the reader to have the patience to read through to the end.

First, my friend Jake Meador posted (as something of an indirect response to my post), an excellent “3 Points on #PPSellsBabyParts,” which induced me to rethink some of my cynicism and pessimism, particularly about our political objectives. Second, however, another friend posted this article, which, among many very good points, carries the unfortunate implication that we all have a moral duty to take to social media’s virtual streets and yell and wave our posters. This, together with some other things I have observed, led me to feel that my main concern in my original post—to raise some alarms about our headlong leap onto the Social Media Outrage Bandwagon—needed to be reiterated and elaborated. Read More