I was in a book discussion with some friends and colleagues recently. The topic was Luther’s Bondage of the Will. As you may be able to discern from the title, there is much in the book about free will (or the lack, thereof) and God’s sovereignty.
Now, I tend not to take a side in the controversy and prefer instead to embrace the mystery. But after listening to some pretty heavy Calvinistic discourse, I ventured forth that Paul’s speech to the Athenians doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if free will really has nothing to do with it. Why, if the free will is essentially irrelevant, does Paul tell the men of Athens what God is like and then confirm his case by noting that God furnished evidence by raising Jesus from the dead?
What happened next is the reason for this post. One of the men in the room listened to what I had to say and then remarked that he never really had liked “evidential apologetics.” I responded that evidence appears to be pretty important if you look at the passage I’d cited. He again insisted that he didn’t care much for “evidential apologetics” and we left it at that. My guess would be that he didn’t care much for an argument that someone should follow Christ because of evidence because the logic runs against a hard election interpretation of scripture.
The disdain for evidential apologetics bothered me because I think it shows a lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Muslims, for example, follow without any kind of evidence. Their faith is based on assertion. So, too, are other faiths which rely on the assurance of some person, now long dead, that a revelation has been given which must be followed. To the extent that Christians express a lack of interest in “evidential apologetics” it seems to me that they are engaging their faith much as the Muslims do theirs.
As he addressed the men of Athens, Paul thought it important not merely to describe the attributes of God, but also to point to an event in real space and time as evidence that he was not just another bloviator claiming to know the truth. Evidence is at the core of Christianity.
Reason and revelation are not the same thing, but they stand closer together in the Christian faith than in any other.
Irene Rosenberg recently passed away. She was a longtime member of the University of Houston Law Center and a lion-hearted liberal. Irene and her husband Yale were two of the brightest lights at the law school. They were orthodox Jews and unapologetic leftists.
While I disagreed with the two of them about many things in law and politics, I learned a great deal from them. They were intellectual powerhouses with probing, critical minds capable of wonderful acts of analysis. When Yale died several years ago, I wrote her to express my appreciation for him. She wrote back with great warmth and affection. I still have that letter in a box marked SENTIMENTALS. It fills me with happiness to look at it and to think that it meant something to her that I wrote after his death.
Irene was emotionally transparent and very blunt. I can remember her asking a girl if a particular piercing was painful. The girl was taken aback. I was nearby and was greatly amused.
At one point, Irene figured out that I was a pretty religious person, like she and Yale were except Christian. She once told me she felt sorry that my faith lacked the detailed ritual and observance of her orthodox Judaism. The remark wasn’t meant offensively, nor did I take it that way. When Yale taught Jewish law, I took the course enthusiastically. He confided that conservative Christians tended to be his best students in the class because of their interest in the Hebrew scriptures.
Irene was sensitive to students, but she argued hard for her views. I had the chance to talk to her about them on many occasions offering my conservative challenges. At one point, she confided that she sometimes thought all political and legal discourse might be a screen for what’s really in our guts.
If her intuition was true, I can say this much: Her guts were made of solid gold. She was an orthodox Jewish humanist in the best sense of those words.
They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”
– The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
Yesterday, I did something I have never done before. I paid $4.99 for a bottle of shampoo . . . for myself.
In the past, I’ve always been happy with the .99 varieties, pretty much all of which do clean the hair and leave a nice squeak at the end.
However, I have begun to feel that the head of hair is no longer what it was and am fighting age with purchase of a shampoo that will rejuvenate the follicles, or at least make them look thicker . . .
Look out, Troy Polamalu.
As I read the paper and ate my lunch at a fast food Italian place near campus recently, I became aware of a conversation occurring a few tables away directly in front of me. The participants were two middle-aged parents and their young adult son who was probably a college student.
Though I was focused on my paper, their talk was not a quiet one and I could hear much of it. It seemed the parents were trying to urge their son to be conscientious about attending class, to keep up with the readings, to get a reasonable night’s sleep on a regular basis . . . things like that. They were very earnest. There was little doubt of their care for their child’s future and their desire that he not squander his chance in the rare time of life called the college years.
They didn’t appear to be getting very far with him. Rather than respond directly to their points, he brought up semi-irrelevant tangents and employed some silly defenses. For example, I think he claimed an attempt to go to bed early one night actually ruined his sleep patterns or something of the sort.
As I left, they continued their discussion. The parents pressing with their advice for the good of their nearly mature child-man. The son trying to run out the clock on the lunch, not realizing the value of his parents’ advice.
I still remember the night my father decided I needed a talk like the one I’d just witnessed. It happened when I was a sophomore in college. Thank God for preparing my heart to listen. And thanks to him for a father who risked the usually invincible ignorance of his son to tell me what I needed to hear.
Back in 2008, there were plenty of people counting out Sarah Palin. They denigrated her intelligence. They thought she was a lightweight and a joke.
Those people were wrong. At the time, I characterized Sarah Palin as a soon to be transformative figure in American politics. I think that was the right call.
Nevertheless, she cannot and must not be considered a strong candidate for the GOP nomination in 2012. When I say that, I don’t mean it would be impossible for her to be nominated, but rather that it would be a major mistake.
If Sarah Palin wanted to be president, then she needed to stick it out in Alaska and successfully complete her term as governor. It would have been better still for her to complete two full terms or to finish one term and then go to the U.S. Senate to gain exposure to a broader array of national issues.
She hasn’t done that. Instead, she has chosen to become a political celebrity AND one heckuva force in Republican primaries. I think her influence is positive. She deserves a lot of credit for the current focus on our fiscal woes, which is really the issue that drove the GOP to victory overall.
What will be required in 2012 is a conservative deemed to be a serious expert with regard to both the economy and budget reform. This person will have to be seen as an equal to President Obama as an intellectual and superior to him as a political executive. Even if Sarah Palin were to extensively prepare herself and gain razor-edged perfection with the issues, she would still be viewed as someone who gave up on governing Alaska. Bright, fiscally-conservative governors will be the proper prescription for taking back the White House, the Senate, and beginning the arduous work of reforming the entitlement state. Bobby Jindal will be an option. Mitch Daniels will be an option. Perhaps Tim Pawlenty or Jeb Bush. Those are the kinds of names to look for if victory (and real governing success) is the desired outcome.