Archive for October, 2009

THE EVANGELICAL CENTURY

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Universities were founded because early Americans earnestly believed that American society should be governed by evangelical Christian people. They believed that American industry should be run by evangelical Christian entrepreneurs. They believed that American culture should be created by evangelical Christians. The desire to assure that America would be ruled by an evangelical elite was no doubt the primary reason that American universities were founded from 1636-1800.

The marriage of spiritual maturity and elite education is a potent combination and to a large degree assured the success of the American experiment. Its divorce may presage its demise.

Evangelicals became uncomfortable with the secular university as early as 1800. As modern science influenced the university, Christian evangelicalism maintained peace with it, believing that all truth was God’s truth. In fact, Christian evangelicalism wed the Gospel to science. Evangelicals sought to maintain a commonsense epistemology that easily accommodated scientific advances (George Marsden, The Soul of the American University. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994). In a congenial, almost filial spirit, the colleges endorsed a broader, more moralistic, less sectarian Christianity. However, as science abandoned theism for naturalism, evangelicals grew uneasy. Eventually, by the 1880s, religion–including evangelicalism–was on the fringinges of the American university. Eventually Christian evangelicalism was to be off the university radar screen altogether.

Universities now professed a vague commitment to a liberal, ethical Christianity which invited skepticism and indifference. Religious commitment was perceived as psychological phenomenon, and moved to the fringes of university life. In fact, religious commitment was perceived as a voluntary activity, an aberration rather than an expressed purpose of the institution. Christianity was taught along with other religious expressions in religious departments. Christian ministry was relegated to insignificant graduate schools or dropped altogether.

By the 1920s the university was not even loosely a Christian institution. Religion in the university and in public life was to be relegated to the private experience. So-called “academic freedom” became a sacrosanct concept and precluded anything that smacked of religiosity–especially old time religion that evangelicals so enthusiastically embraced. Religion was represented on campus in sanitary denominational ministries and token chapel ministries (that were hardly more than counseling centers). The separation has been so thorough that when the New York Times’ reporter Ari Goldman spent a year at Harvard Divinity School he was pleased to find, after all, God at Harvard! (Ari L. Goldman, The Search for God at Harvard. NY: Random House, 1991).

At the same time, with growing persecution, evangelicals abandoned the secular university and founded their own universities. This whole process accelerated after the Scopes Trial in the 1920s.

HARVARD YARD

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

As the reader can imagine, I hesitated leaving such a place. I remember thinking about my home as I traveled “North” to attend Harvard Divinity School. I had been North once–to a wedding in New York City–but I had successfully managed to avoid northern contagion. My Yankee-hating grandmother had filled my mind and fears with images of cigar-smoking, carpetbag toting (I never once saw a carpet bag) Yankees accosting me as I attempted to cross Harvard Yard. “Jimmy,” my grandmother earnestly pleaded with me, “stay away from Yankee ladies. They are full of guile and no well-bred naíve southern gentleman has a chance against their wiles.” I later met at Harvard and married my Yankee wife from New Jersey. Karen, my wife, in fact, is one of the most Godly, principled people I have ever met!

While my grandmother’s characterization of the north, and the university, were full of gross exaggerations and untruths, I, an evangelical Christian, nonetheless found the university to be a hostile place.

To many evangelical Christians, the modern, secular, university is a hostile place. It was not always so.

American Evangelicalism has two distinctives: it emphasizes a personal commitment to Christ and the exclusive authority of the Bible above all other authority. The university, as we understand it, is “an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

In fact, the American university was built solidly on evangelical principles. An early brochure, published in 1643, stated that the purpose of Harvard University (the oldest American university) was “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.” Harvard’s motto for 300 years was “Christo et Ecclesiae.” In fact, most of the U. S. universities founded before the 20th century had a strongly religious, usually Protestant Evangelical Christian character. Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Stanford, Duke, William and Mary, Boston University, Michigan, and the University of Californian had a decidedly evangelical Christian character in the early years of their existence and abandoned it in the 20th century. By 1920s, the American university had stepped completely back from its evangelical roots. This was true of every American university founded in the first 200 years of our existence.

Readers would be surprised to see how evangelical early universities were. They had pastors as presidents. These men closely tied the identity of their university to a strong Christian world view. The core curriculum included Bible courses and Christian theology. These were mandatory Bible courses. All American universities insisted on a doctrinally sound content for sensitive courses and often required that faculty be born again Christians! Imagine this: the famous historian Frederick Jackson Turner was refused a professorship at Princeton because he was a Unitarian! Chapel attendance was required at Harvard and Yale! It is more than coincidental that the architects who designed early universities designed them to look like churches. At the University of Pittsburgh, for instance, the most prominent building on campus is the Cathedral of Learning (J. A. Appleyard, S.J., http://fmwww.bc.edu/SJ/marsden.html).

BABYLON

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Thousands of young Christian young people are praying about where God is calling them to spend the next 4 years of their lives. That is good news to the United States of America!

Growing up in southern Arkansas in the middle of the last century I never thought much about religion or colleges.

Southern Arkansas was a generous but exhausted land. Cotton, pampered by what are now illegal chemicals like EPN and DDT, grew to bountiful heights. Southwest winds permanently bent rice plants pregnant with pounds and pounds of offspring. Pecan trees cradled whole acres of antediluvian loam with their gigantic arms. Every spring, bayous and rivers deposited a rich delta gift along the banks of grateful farm land. It was a gift from Minnesota and Ohio, freely given by the ubiquitous Mississippi River, and gratefully accepted by tobacco chewing Arkansas delta farmers. This was really an unselfish land, a land that seemed to give more than it took.

The house in which I lived was a natural addition to this magnificent land. Built during the depression years of cheap labor, the House-so named by grandmother Helen (whom I affectionately called “Mammaw”)—reflected my grandparent’s unbounded optimism. They had built it with a profitable business and Depression-priced labor. They shamelessly flaunted their prosperity in a culture that was painfully impoverished. No one seemed to mind. The South has always been kind to its elitists. They were a chosen people, or so they claimed with every offering of ebullience. No one questioned their credentials-especially when my grandmother imported bricks from New Orleans streets, painted wicker chairs from replete Havana shops, and crystal chandeliers from abandoned Liverpool mansions. I remember that the bricks surrounding our fireplace evoked a faint smell of horse manure every winter as we enjoyed our winter fires.

The House was a testimony both to my grandmother’s generosity and to her eccentricity. This special house had five thousand square feet, six bedrooms and five full baths, and a full basement-the only full basement in my below sea level community. The servant’s quarters were above the kennel and they were better than many of our neighbor’s houses. The kitchen was built of cool New Orleans bricks and attached to the house by a closed walkway.

BACKGROUND TO THE AENEID

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Rome was one of the most important and influential city-states in world history. What Jerusalem was to the religious world, Rome was to the geo-political world. Legend said that in 753 B.C. twin boys, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned by the river Tiber to starve. A mother wolf cared for them until they were young adults. Years later, Mars, the Roman God of war encouraged the boys to build a city where they had been found. The two boys built this city; however, they could not get along and ended up at war with each other. Romulus won the battle, and the city became known as Rome. Today, historians and archaeologists agree that people started living in Rome long before the time of Romulus and Remus, but many people throughout Roman history continued to believe that this legend was true. Nevertheless, from this cryptic beginning the Roman civilization literally conquered the entire known world.

There is evidence, of course, that there were people in the Tiber River area long before the apocrypha stories about Romulus and Remus emerged. There were nomads in the Tiber River area that created sedentary villages around 800 B.C.

The history of Rome is marked by three epochs. In the first period from 753–5099 B.C. the city developed from a village to a city ruled by kings. Then, the Romans expelled the kings and established the Roman Republic during the period from 509–27 B.C. It was much like the Greek Republic existting about the same time in Athens. The Republic collapsed and Rome was ruled by despotic, if at times benign, emperors from 27 B.C.—A.D. 4766. It was during the last period that The Aeneid, Virgil, and Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, were written.

The Italian Peninsula provided the Romans with a secure base from which to expand over the Mediterranean and then European world. Italy was easy to defend and with its numerous deep-water ports, was an ideal launching pad for expeditions into the interior Mediterranean world. Italy is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea and protected to the north by the Alps mountain range. The climate is generally temperate, although summers are hot in the southern regions.

From the beginning, there were Italian competitors to Roman hegemony. At the beginning of Roman history, somewhat south and north of Rome, Etruscans had a vigorous civilization. Nevertheless, by A.D. 80 the Etrusca ns were conquered and absorbed into the expanding Roman city-state.

From the beginning of Roman history, the family lay at the center of all personal and social relations in Rome and even influenced public and political activities. Romans valued stable family life and passed laws to reward families led by two parents. At the same time, religion—which until the middle of the first millennium A.D. was a form of polytheism—was the most important element that shaped early Roman life.. Religion and stable families remained closely connected as the twin pillars of Roman society, especially for the five centuries of the Roman Republic. Later in Roman history, some Romans looked back to these early institutions for the salvation of the Roman Empire. These values are expressed in both the writings of Virgil and Marcus Aurelius.

Virgil was born in a rural town north of Rome and grew up in the most prosperous era of Roman h egemony. Emperor Augustus was reigning, and he -heralded unprecedented prosperity and peace for the Roman Empire. Virgil became one of the most famous poets in Roman history. His most famous work was the Aeneid. Virgil worked on the Aeneid for eleven years. This epic poem reflects his great skill and care in writing and his tremendous knowledge of Greek literature, which he studied throughout his life.

Oedipus Complex

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Sigmund Freud introduced the idea of the Oedipus Complex in his Interpretation of Dreams (1899). The term derives from the Oedipus we know, who unknowingly slew his father and married his mother; its female analogue, the Electra complex, is named for another mythological figure, who helped slay her mother. Without going into particulars, the concept is that one looks within oneself for explanations of aberrant and destructive behavior—not at circumstances or behavior. The problem is the attitude presented by the Chorus close to the end of the play: “O Oedipus, famous king,/You whom the same great harbor sheltered/As child and father both,/How could the furrows which your father plowed/Bear you in silence for so long?” (Bernard Knox Translation, p. 90) All the blame lies outside Oedipus—he is only the victim. Thus, Freud’s Oedipus Complex. The problem is that Freud recommended that we ignore what he called “guilt” and we Christians call “conviction.” Sigmund Freud gave the world permission to do what is right in its own eyes because it was to avoid guilt (or conviction). This destroyed the whole notion of redemption in many lives because it removed sin as a determining agent in human life.

Aeschulus

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Another important important contemporary of Sophocles playwright is Aeschylus. The importance of Aeschylus in the development of the drama is immense. Prior to his writings, tragedy (as opposed to comedy) had consisted of a chorus and one actor. Aeschylus introduced a second actor, expanding the dramatic dialogue and he revolutionizing Greek tragedy. He acted in his own plays, and directed the chorus. The role of director assumed a new importance in the person of Aeschylus. His most famous tragic trilogy, Oresteia, the only example of a complete Greek tragic trilogy which has come down to us, consists of the “Agamemnon,” the “Choephorae,” and the “The Furies.” Students should read at least one of the trilogy selections and compare it to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The following is the beginning of Agamemnon:

Pray the gods to quit me of my toils,
To close the watch I keep, this livelong year;
For as a watch-dog lying, not at rest,
Propped on one arm, upon the palace-roof
Of Atreus’ race, too long, too well I know
The starry conclave of the midnight sky,
Too well, the splendours of the firmament,
The lords of light, whose kingly aspect shows–
What time they set or climb the sky in turn–
The year’s divisions, bringing frost or fire.
And now, as ever, am I set to mark
When shall stream up the glow of signal-flame,
The bale-fire bright, and tell its Trojan tale–
Troy town is ta’en: such issue holds in hope
She in whose woman’s breast beats heart of man.
Thus upon mine unrestful couch I lie,
Bathed with the dews of night, unvisited
By dreams–ah me–for in the place of sleep Stands
Fear as my familiar, and repels
The soft repose that would mine eyelids seal.
And if at whiles, for the lost balm of sleep,
I medicine my soul with melody Of trill or song–anon to tears I turn,
Wailing the woe that broods upon this home,
Not now by honour guided as of old.
But now at last fair fall the welcome hour
That sets me free, whene’er the thick night glow
With beacon-fire of hope deferred no more.
All hail! [A beacon-light is seen reddening the distant sky.
Fire of the night, that brings my spirit day,
Shedding on Argos light, and dance, and song.
Greetings to fortune, hail!
Let my loud summons ring within the ears Of Agamemnon’s queen, that she anon
Start from her couch and with a shrill voice cry
A joyous welcome to the beacon-blaze,
For Ilion’s fall; such fiery message gleams
From yon high flame; and I, before the rest,
Will foot the lightsome measure of our joy;
For I can say, My master’s dice fell fair-”-Behold! the triple sice, the lucky flame!
Now be my lot to clasp, in loyal love,
The hand of him restored, who rules our home:
Home--but I say no moreore: upon my tongue
Treads hard the ox o’ the adage.
Had it voice,
The home itself might soothliest tell its tale;
I, of set will, speak words the wise may learn,
To others, nought remember nor discern.
[Exit. The chorus of old men of Mycenà enter, each leaning on a staff. During their song Clytemnestra appears in the background, kindling the altars].
(Charles W. Eliot, The Harvard Classics, Vol. 8< /SPAN>, NY: P. F. Collier and Co., 1937, 7-8).

In Ancient Greek tragedy, like Oedipus Rex, there was as an attempt to attain what Greek critics (e.g., Aristotle) called the “art impulses of nature.” Like mixing acids and bases in a chemical compound until one reaches equilibrium, Greeks sought to mix passion and realism to attain a sort of cosmic equilibrium. Thus the tragic plot would emphasize the realism of this play and the metaphysical lyrics of the chorus would highlight the passionate ingredient of the same play. The hope was that the net result would be a pure tragedy full of feeling and reason.

Students should ask themselves these questions, “Was that balance attained=2 0by Sophocles in this play? Was the play too incredible and passionate to enjoy? Or did Sophocles manage to inspire and to inform the view at the same time?”

Oedipus Rex

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Sophocles ranks among the very best playwrights in western literature. From his hundred or so plays, Oedipus Rex (or the King) is considered by many to be the best. What makes this play so powerful is its immutability – the struggles we see unfold are the same struggles we all experience. Sophocles was born in 496 B.C. and died in 406 B.C. (dates are approximate). Sophocles was one of the three great tragic dramatists of ancient Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Euripides. The plot of Oedipus is truly tragic. To Laius, King of Thebes, an oracle foretold that the child born to him by his queen Jocasta would slay his father Laius and wed his own mother. When in time a son was born, the infant’s feet were riveted together and he was left to die on Mount Cithaeron. A shepherd found the infant and delivered him to another shepherd, who took him to his master, King Polybus of Corinth. Polybus adopted the boy and named him Oedipus. He grew up believing that he was indeed Ploybus’ son. Later, doubting his parentage, Oedipus inquired of the Delphic god and heard himself identified as Laius’ son. Therefore, he fled from what he thought was his father’s house (but was really his adopted father’s house) and in his flight he encountered and unwittingly slew his birth father, Laius. Arriving at Thebes, he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and the grateful Thebans made him king. Thus, he reigned in the palace of Laius and married the widowed queen who, unknown to Oedipus, was also his birth mother. After they had children a terrible plague fell upon the city. Again the oracle was consulted, and it urged them to purge themselves of blood guilt. Oedipus denounced the crime of which he was unaware and undertook to track out the criminal. Step by step it is revealed to Oedipus that he was the man. In the closing scene Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus blinds himself.

Breakfast with Aristotle

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Aristotle (350 B.C. -?), a disciple of Plato, wrote what is essentially a modification, a taming down, of Plato’s ideas. To Plato, knowledge and virtue were inseparable. To Aristotle, they were merely connected. Aristotle was not on a search for absolute truth; in fact he was not certain it existed. Truth, beauty, and goodness were to be observed and quantified from human behavior and the senses. Goodness in particular was not an absolute. It was an average between two absolutes. Aristotle said that mankind should strike a balance between passion and temperance. He said that people should seek the “Golden Mean” defined as a course of life that was never extreme. Finally, Plato argued that reality lay in knowledge of the gods. Aristotle argued that truth lay in empirical, measurable knowledge. Aristotle, then, was the father of modern science (Fire That Burns, James Stobaugh, 23-27). Having said that, Rhetoric and Poetics is more of a handbook of literary criticism than a discussion of metaphysics. Most modern readers will be offended by Aristotle’s autocratic tone. He is no reticent literary critic tiptoeing around his reader’s literary feelings. He states succinctly what he believes good literature is. How would Aristotle define rhetoric? “Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (Aristotle, Rhetoric and Poetics translated by W. Rhys Roberts and Ingram Bywater (NY: Modern Library, 1954), 24). Rhetoric is the means of persuasion on almost any subject. It is not concerned with any special class of subjects. For instance, art, as well as prose fiction, persuades and has a rhetorical component. To Aristotle there are three means of persuading: by use of logic, by appeal to goodness, and by appeal to the emotions. What warnings does Aristotle issue surrounding rhetoric? “The orator must not only try to make the argument of his speech demonstrative and worthy of belief; he must also make his own character look right and put his hearers, who are to decide, into the right frame of mind.” (Rhys and Bywater, 8). Aristotle warns the reader that “in regards to each emotion we must consider the states of mind in which it is felt, the people towards it is felt, and the grounds on which it is felt (Rhys and Bywater, 8)” How would Aristotle define poetry? Poetry would be seen as art. Among the arts mentioned are poetry, tragic drama, comedy, and music composition. How does Aristotle define tragedy? Tragedy is defined as an imitation of fear and sadness promulgated by language whose purpose is to purge the reader from sentimentality. There is always a catharsis or cleansing that occurs in the reader when he embraces the whole scope of the tragedy. Who is the “tragic hero?”The tragic hero is greater than life but not necessarily perfect. The tragic hero inherently possesses a flaw that ultimately will destroy him. Oedipus, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is a perfect illustration of this tragic hero.

Tolerance

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

In the World it is called tolerance

English evangelical Dorothy Sayers warns us, “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” This discussion, illustrated with increased freqency in contemporary society, is an age old world view discussion.

All contemporary worldview discussions can be traced one way or another to Plato and Aristotle. Plato was the Pharisee of his day—the conservative, the one who believeed that the gods were intimately involved with human beings. His “Republic” was a perfect society based on the notion that mankind was creating a city based on the word of the gods. Cosmology, or the presence of supernatural being(s), in other words, was very important to Plato. Likewise, to the Pharisee, who believed strongly in the Resurrection, the supernatural was very involved in human life. To Plato, the gods defined reality.

Aristotle, on the other hand, in his important essay Poetics, argued that the world was governed by impersonal laws. Aristotle argued that mankind defined who the gods were. As long as the gods were alive and well, they did not much concern themselves with the world. Therefore, mankind should be concerned about finding out about his world without worrying about the gods. This view was evident again in the Sadducees—who rejected the suppernatural—and later in philosophers like David Hume. Discussing Heellenistic philosophy is for the reason of pointing out that the struggle over worldview is over three thousand years old. It is the struggle that Elijah joined when he fought King Ahab. King Ahab was a good Jew; the problem was he did not live his life as if God were actually alive. Is God intentionally involved in the affairs of mankind or is He not? The answer to this question is more or less the battle that is raging on college campuses today.

Plato had a great influence upon Christianity. A Roman author named Plotinus (204-270 A.D.) combined Plato’s philosophy with a heightened emphasis on personal relationship with God. His work deeply affected Augustine of Hippo. In Augustine, Plato’s division of the world into the reality of True Being, as well as the separation of the soul from the body, were given Christian interpretations. In a sense, Augustine’s “beatific vision of God” (Book IV, Ch. 16) is very similar to Plato’s “gazing upon the forms.” Paul, a student of Greek philosophy, was deeply affected by Plato. The Holy Spirit led Paul to write: “So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Can you find other examples of Platonic influences on the Apostle Paul’s writings? Next, can you find examples of the cultural war raging in your world? Of course the most famous is 1 Corinthians 13 where love is presented as a perfect “form.” In fact though, any reference to the Resurrection (e.g., 1 Cor. 15) hints at Platonic influence. Today, there are battles raging everywhere. The question is, “Is our society to be based on human experience or on the Word of an unseen God?”

Devastated Indeed

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Read in my hometown newspaper today that a person was devastated by crashing his 67 Corvette. Devastated indeed.

I will give you devastation! Try being blind. This is what John Milton is facing in his old age. He writes a poem about it:

“On His Blindness” By John Milton

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,�
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
I fondly ask:�But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: God doth not need
Either man’s work, or His own gifts, who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:�
They also serve who only stand and wait.

As one of my distance learning students explains, “When Milton lost his sight, he very strongly considered giving up writing poetry. He couldn’t imagine himself still writing. This feeling of utter abandonment is expressed in his poem On His Blindness.” But though he may have felt that way for a while, that emotion was soon changed into a feeling of hope; a wiliness to continue in his calling.” And what is amazing is that Milton wrote his greatest work�“Paradise Lost” when he was blind.

How could he do this? My student says, “If you one reads carefully there are portions of the poem which tell of hope in faraway places, hope that is longed for and not thrown away carelessly. At the words, “They also serve who wait,” Milton shows that he is waiting while serving, for God to show him what to do next. Interestingly enough, another word for wait is hope. In the NIV, Isaiah 40:31 says, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” In the KJV Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Now it is plain that while Milton is waiting, he is also hoping.”

Friend I hope you have that hope in your life! I know I do.