“Essential” vs “Non-Essential” Doctrines

Andrew Fulford:

We’ve had previous discussions at this blog on the issue of the “essentials”, what they are, and their relevance to church unity and church discipline. On this topic, there seems to be a long tradition of  orthodox theologians saying that this question is “mysterious and difficult”. And, I myself am beginning to wonder if the question is difficult because the question presupposes something erroneous.

It does seem counter-intuitive, at least a little, to say there is a category of doctrines (“non-essentials”) revealed by God which people are nonetheless free, in any sense, to disbelieve. I’m beginning to wonder if the essentials/non-essentials distinction is misleading. Consider: the practical impetus behind making the distinction seems to be our recognition (whether based on pure emotion or on the leading of the Spirit or something) that there are people who seem to have evidence of the Spirit of Christ living in them who nevertheless disagree with us on some doctrinal point. I was going to say “and only in the case where the doctrine is non-essential”, but frankly I don’t think that’s true: some Reformed theologians have emphasized that “you are not justified by faith in justification by faith, but by faith in Jesus”, implying it is possible for someone to be saved who does not believe in what many Protestants would call the “point on which the church stands or falls”. I am really starting think the real distinction being made, and being miscast as essential vs. non-essential, is culpable vs. non-culpable ignorance of the truth. Whether we take an apparent ardent love for Jesus as sufficient to join in communion with a person or a church, in spite of said person or church rejecting some truth we believed to be taught by God, is dependent on whether we think that person or church is excusably ignorant of the truth or not, and not whether the doctrine fits into the nebulous category of “essential”.

– See more at: http://www.cityofgodblog.com/2011/05/a-different-thought-on-the-essentials/#sthash.wyAygLaW.dpuf

Theologizers and the Anti-Seminary

Bart Gingerich:

What is amazing is that Vines and Evans have little formal theological education and yet have widespread popularity, especially among Millennial evangelicals. As one of my friends pointed out to me, Evans in particular is the perfect writer for this low-attention-span generation which eschews dense reading and complex arguments. Young evangelicals have been raised in a culture that discourages good intellectual habits. Instead, they are informed by the blogosphere. Heaven help them if the truth is to be found on page 4 of a Google search. For the orthodox and revisionist-leaning alike, there are a plethora of amateur theologizers rather than theologians in American congregations today.

Even Ivy Leaguer Tony Jones has to play the game. Everyone has to in order to get readers. Thus, even his Kindle book on the atonementresembles a long series of blog posts rather than a thorough-going analysis of primary sources.

Vines himself provides the perfect example of this approach. He left his bachelor’s degree program at Harvard to study the issue of LGBT issues and the Christian faith. After two whopping years of research, he churned out a book that disagrees with two millennia of explicit church teaching on moral ethics. And the digital crowds roar.

Why I Miss Being a Born-Again Christian

From Buzzfeed, of all places:

A shiver hopscotches up my spine. The air is sticky and hot in this school gym in Florida, soaking the underarms of my T-shirt. Loud music rubs its way through the air. I’m 16 and I am just learning how to desire.

My desire at that moment was for Jesus, or as 30-year-old me wants to declare in hindsight, what I earnestly believed was Jesus. Whatever “it” was, it was powerful enough to bring a girl who grew up in a non-churchgoing family to a sweaty school gym for youth group every week, and binding enough to yoke me to a conservative faith for most of my formative years. From ages 17 until about age 23, I was a born-again Christian, something I’m usually embarrassed to admit here in New York City.

To use the jargon of my former life, I became a “believer” in Christ shortly after my mom “got saved” — the term evangelicals use to mean a conversion to a very specific kind of Christianity, the Billy Graham and gay Teletubbies kind that preaches Jesus as the only path to salvation. My Ohio-bred parents had grown up in Catholic households and, suffering from organized-religion hangovers, raised me and my sister totally unchurched. That is, until we moved to Florida. A friend invited my mom to her sprawling Southern Baptist megachurch, where she prayed to accept Jesus. (The “sinner’s prayer” is theengagement chicken of born-again Christianity: Realize and confess in earnest that Jesus died for your sins, and he’ll return the favor with eternal life.) My sister and I did the same soon after; my dad, then and now, remained unconvinced.

Running with the Chinese in Kenya

From Roads and Kingdoms:

ITEN, Kenya—The morning air is crisp as the minivan plods down a red clay road, trailing the pack of runners as they head toward the escarpment, past schoolchildren, cows, and simple mud huts, eventually doubling back through the center of Kenya’s pre-eminent running town.

Renato Canova, the man behind the wheel, has driven this route many times. One of the world’s most accomplished distance running coaches, the 69-year-old Italian has been working with Kenyan athletes since 1998 and now spends much of the year in the Kenyan rift, an area famous for minting world-class athletes in events ranging from 800 meters to the marathon.

As usual, Canova is animated as he follows the progress of the run, occasionally pulling even with the pack to critique an athlete’s form or offer encouragement. On this morning, though, there’s an added layer of complexity. As Canova shouts out in heavily accented English, a young interpreter named Anna Lin repeats the words in Mandarin, and Wang Bin, a Chinese Athletics Federation administrator, yells out the window to the athletes.

The Shawshank Residual

From the WSJ:

Bob Gunton is a character actor with 125 credits to his name, including several seasons of “24” and “Desperate Housewives” and a host of movie roles in films such as the Oscar-winning “Argo.” Vaguely familiar faces like his are common in the Los Angeles area where he lives, and nobody pays much attention. Many of his roles have been forgotten.

But every day, the 68-year-old actor says, he hears the whispers—from cabdrivers, waiters, the new bag boy at his neighborhood supermarket: “That’s the warden in ‘Shawshank.’ ”

He also still gets residual payments—not huge, but steady, close to six figures by the film’s 10th anniversary in 2004. Since then, he has continued to get “a very substantial income” long past the age when residuals usually dry up.

“I suspect my daughter, years from now, will still be getting checks,” he said.

On Vacations

From New York:

Perhaps one of the most depressing findings in social science (and yes, it’s been replicated many times over) is that the glorious, sunshiny glow we acquire during a holiday tends to fade with astonishing rapidity. In fact, even during vacations, our enjoyment tends to peak between 40 and 70 percent of the way in, much in the same way that our weekends feel best between Saturday afternoon and Sunday brunch; after that, it all starts to feel like borrowed time, bittersweet.

The work of one psychologist, Jessica de Bloom, who’s done lots of research in the Netherlands, is particularly comprehensive — and well designed. Unlike most other researchers, who check in with their subjects at just two intervals after their vacations (three days later, and then several weeks later), she follows up with her participants much more frequently. And here, in a nub, is what she’s found: Within a week of returning to work, the salubrious effects have faded entirely.

“Most vacations,” she and her colleagues bluntly write in a study from last year, “seem to have strong, but rather short-lived effects.” (A subheading from another one of her papers, this one from 2010: “Lots of Fun, Quickly Gone.”)

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Amazon v Hachette

The Times reports:

Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its mightin a more brazen way than ever before.

Seeking ever-higher payments from publishers to bolster its anemic bottom line, Amazon is holding books and authors hostage on two continents by delaying shipments and raising prices. The literary community is fearful and outraged — and practically begging for government intervention.

“How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it,” asked Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, echoing remarks being made across social media.

Amazon is, as usual, staying mum. “We talk when we have something to say,” Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive, said at the company’s annual meeting this week.

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The Experience of Being Under a Fire

From the Atlantic:

But fire shelters have saved hundreds of people’s lives, and saved hundreds of others from serious burns. I wanted to get a sense of what it’s like to endure a burnover, so I spoke to Lathan Johnson, a Colorado firefighter who survived a shelter deployment on the Little Venus Fire, which burned deep in the backcountry of Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest in July 2006.

“You’re not always going to be able to outsmart a fire,” Johnson said. “I thought for sure I’d never have to use a fire shelter, and then I find myself shaking out one, pretty thankful that I had it.”

Johnson was overseeing a small group assigned to relieve another crew that was monitoring the fire several miles up a river valley. They got a late start and didn’t hike up the river valley until the afternoon, the most dangerous time for a wildfire, when the sun is hot, relative humidity is low, and the winds are high. “That’s when bad things happen on a fire,” Johnson says. “We call it the witching hour.” Indeed, the Wildfire Lessons Learned Center in Tucson, Arizona, studied 115 instances of firefighters trapped by wildfire over the past 20 years and found that half occurred between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and all but 12 happened between noon and 6 p.m.

The Angry, Icy, Enlightened Adams

An interesting essay on a very complex man, our nation’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams:

In February 1778, John Quincy Adams, ten years old, crossed the Atlantic with his father, who had just been appointed to the American diplomatic delegation in Paris. “Johnny…reads and chatters french like a french Boy,” John Adams proudly wrote Abigail a few months after father and son, a family of two, arrived in France. The young John Quincy, groomed from infancy for lofty public responsibilities, was determined to profit from his stay in the French capital. “We are sent into this world for some end,” he instructed his younger brother Charles from Paris. “It is our duty to discover by close study what this end is and when we once discover it to pursue it with unconquerable perseverance.” He would demand ever more of himself as the years went by. “I have indulged too much indolence and inactivity of mind,” he wrote three decades later, “and the year has left no advantageous trace of itself in the annals of my life.”

The persevering young man would become a diplomat, skillfully representing the United States in the courts of the Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Sweden, Russia, and Great Britain. And he would play a significant part in American politics. From 1803 until 1808, he was a United States senator from Massachusetts. In 1817, President James Monroe appointed him secretary of state, and from that position he ascended to the presidency, governing the nation from 1825 to 1829. In 1830, he won a seat in the House of Representatives and would serve there until 1848, when he collapsed at his House desk, dying at the age of eighty.

The biggest thing that gives me pause in my adulation for JQA’s father, John Adams, is seeing how his children turned out.

What Farm to Table Gets Wrong

From the NYT:

POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. — IT’S spring again. Hip deep in asparagus — and, soon enough, tomatoes and zucchini — farm-to-table advocates finally have something from the farm to put on the table.

The crowds clamoring for just-dug produce at the farmers’ market and the local food co-op suggest that this movement is no longer just a foodie fad. Today, almost 80 percent of Americans say sustainability is a priority when purchasing food. The promise of this kind of majority is that eating local can reshape landscapes and drive lasting change.

Except it hasn’t. More than a decade into the movement, the promise has fallen short. For all its successes, farm-to-table has not, in any fundamental way, reworked the economic and political forces that dictate how our food is grown and raised. Big Food is getting bigger, not smaller. In the last five years, we’ve lost nearly 100,000 farms (mostly midsize ones). Today, 1.1 percent of farms in the United States account for nearly 45 percent of farm revenues. Despite being farm-to-table’s favorite targets, corn and soy account for more than 50 percent of our harvested acres for the first time ever. Between 2006 and 2011, over a million acres of native prairie were plowed up in the so-called Western Corn Belt to make way for these two crops, the most rapid loss of grasslands since we started using tractors to bust sod on the Great Plains in the 1920s.