15 December 2001

I've posted the 1615 Irish Articles of Religion. They don't appear to be otherwise readily available on the Web in an easily accessible form. So I thought their publication might be useful to some.

The Irish Articles (along with the Lambeth Articles of 1595) are part of an important bridge between the earlier 39 Articles of the Church of England (first English version 1571) and the later Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). The similarities to both the earlier and later documents is apparent. For example, the treatment of the Apocrypha is close to that of the 39 Articles while the discussion of the divine decrees is like that of the Westminster Confession.

The Irish Articles were probably written by Archbishop Ussher and were adopted by the Irish Episcopal Church in 1615, four years before the Synod of Dort. They also bear witness to the Calvinistic bent of the Irish Anglicans, though it is clear that the Irish were not of a Puritan persuasion in their Calvinism and had no difficulties with episcopacy.

Of particular interest to some:

  • Section 18 is the first occurence of "in the space of six days" in an English confessional document and thus is important in determining the intent of Westminster Confession 4.1 when it picks up that phrase.

  • Section 29 shows a good Reformed use of the phrase "the blessed Virgin" to refer to the Mother of our Lord.

  • Section 74 expresses clearly Calvin's view on confession of sin and absolution as part of the ministry of the Gospel, though this did not make its way into the Westminster Confession so explicitly.

  • The non-Puritan perspective of the Articles is evident in Section 77 which gives the church the authority to appoint rites and ceremonies within certain bounds.

  • Section 89, concerning baptism, sees the sacrament as a means of admission into the church whereby the new birth is sealed unto us.

  • While denying transubstantiation, Section 94 asserts nonetheless that we substantially partake of the body and blood of Christ in the holy Supper.

I've attempted to update the spelling in the Articles and make it consistent, though I'm sure I haven't caught every instance yet.

10 December 2001

I said I would also comment on Frame's No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. But I haven't had the opportunity to do so yet and a full review would really to be way too long to fit reasonably on this blog.

So I offer a brief review instead:

“Open theism” is a growing movement within evangelicalism, characterized by a focus on God’s vulnerable love. It sees God’s love in untraditional ways, emphasizing the freedom of creatures, God’s responsiveness, his being bound by time, and his ignorance of future free choices. As such, open theism denies what was traditionally meant by God being all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal, and unchanging.

In his response to open theism John Frame analyzes the movement and evaluates its teachings, criticizing it using Scripture and theology. His critique is clear and fair, attempting to take full account of those biblical teachings to which open theists appeal for support. But Frame is also convincing and persuasive as he challenges their claims.

After describing open theism and setting it in historical context, Frame turns to Scripture, assessing the methods and logic of the movement as well as providing lucid discussions of God’s will, human freedom, time and eternity, change and suffering in God, and God’s knowledge of the future. At every turn, Frame vindicates traditional doctrines, while also providing new insights, deepening our understanding of God’s love and his true responsiveness to his creatures.

Frame’s greatest argument against open theism is the compelling alternative he constructs in his valuable and cogent book.

06 December 2001

Yesterday afternoon I went over to Westminster Seminary's bookstore and bought Robert Letham's The Lord's Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread and John Frame's No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (both P&R, 2001). I finished reading both this morning and plan to comment on them. Here's a review of the Letham book, a bit long for a blog, but here it is anyway.

Robert Letham's The Lord's Supper is a reasonably good short introduction to Reformed eucharistic theology, only 75 pages and with fairly large print, making it accessible to the educated layperson not only in content, but also in format. He ranges through many of the typical topics: New Testament terminology, Passover, Jesus' bread of life discourse (John 6), historic views regarding the real presence of Christ and related issues, questions of practice and frequency, and the eschatology of the Supper.

There is much here that is good and edifying and needs to be heard by the evangelical church.

Letham begins by pointing out the degree to which the historic Reformed understanding of the Lord's Supper has be marginalized, especially in the American context, and even by great defenders of Reformed orthodoxy such as Charles Hodge. With regard to the dispute between Hodge and John Williamson Nevin, Letham happily admits that the "verdict of history has been that Nevin was right and that Hodge had failed to grasp his own theological tradition" (p. 2). Thus, as he notes later, Reformed evangelicals need to recover a biblical understanding of the eucharist as "central to the gospel" (p. 13).

Letham goes on to ably defend the historic and Reformed understanding of John 6 as having at least some important reference to the eucharist. Among other things, Letham notes that from the standpoint of John as the Gospel-writer and of his audience, the eucharistic overtones would have been unmistakable. After all, Jesus' miracle in John 6 is described in terms of the eucharistic action--he took bread, gave thanks, and distributed it (Jn 6:11).

The fact that the Supper had not yet been instituted does not count against Jesus' speaking of it here (especially in the context of John's Gospel) since Jesus repeatedly speaks of things that would only make full sense after his death and resurrection (e.g., the need to receive the Spirit, Jn 7:37-39). I would add that Jesus' action in John 6 occurs against the backdrop of the Passover (v. 4) and Israel's meals in the wilderness (v. 32), just as the institution of the Lord's Supper does, though, oddly Letham seems to want to play down any connection between the Passover and eucharist (more on that below).

John 6, then, can provide us with an important understanding of the Lord's Supper, Letham notes, as a means by which we truly feed upon the body and blood of Jesus, through faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through this eucharistic feasting "we are introduced into the living fellowship of the Triune God" and by means of it "we receive eternal life" (pp. 14-15). There is no baptistic memorialism here!

After chapter two's historical survey, Letham spends the third chapter giving a useful summary of the views of Calvin and the Westminster Standards as illustrating the biblical doctrine he has already unfolded. His analysis of the Westminster Standards is particularly helpful for those who seek ordination in one of those bodies that requires subscription to the Standards, especially given to what degree the actual teaching of the Confession is often neglected.

In the fourth chapter, Letham moves quickly though several questions of practice, some of which he had touched upon already. He argues that the use of a single loaf and a single cup is the most appropriate way of administering the Supper, noting that for Presbyterians to do otherwise is actually a violation of Confessional standards. Moreover, he urges us to throw off our capitulation to the 19th century temperance movement and put real wine back into the cup, thereby conveying "the intoxicating nature of the gospel" (p, 53).

Regarding the use of leavened or unleavened bread, he argues that the Scriptures leave this matter as open as whether we use burgundy or port and I find his argument convincing. He ends the chapter looking at the question of the frequency of communion and, while he does not think churches should be required to celebrate the Supper with any particular frequency, it is clear that he thinks the biblical example and impulse of the Reformation strongly weigh in favor of weekly communion.

The epilogue provides a brief devotional meditation upon the Supper as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in which we already have begun to participate by faith and through the Spirit who unites us with the worship of the angels.

Despite all there is to recommend in Letham's treatment of the Supper, there are several areas in which I found his comments puzzling, overly-narrow in their understanding, or simply mistaken.

First, there is his puzzling attempt to distance the Lord's Supper from Passover. Letham points to discontinuites between the practice of the Supper and that of the Passover seder, the probability that Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples the night before the actual Passover (Jn 18:28), and the idea that the Supper is more clearly connected to the covenant meal on Mt. Sinai in Ex 24 than it is with the Passover festival.

I think, however, that Letham fails to make his case. The fact that the Lord's Supper does not resemble the Passover seder in its precise form does not indicate that there is no deep connection between them. The eucharist fulfills all Old Covenant sacramental meals from the trees in the Garden and the bread and wine of Melchizedek to the sacrificial system of Leviticus and the great feasts of Israel (an observation that is noticably absent from Letham's account). The Passover connection is one of many, but it is not absent, though I'm not entirely sure it is helpful to try to identify the eucharist with one Old Covenant meal or event as somehow more relevant than others. Nonetheless, even if Jesus did not share his meal with his disciples on the actual feast of Passover, it cannot be doubted that Jesus understood what he was doing with them as a Passover meal (e.g., Lk 22:8, 15).

Besides, the establishment of the covenant with Israel on Sinai, including the elders eating with Yahweh and the blood of the covenant sprinkled upon the people (Ex 24), was part of the meaning of Passover. In the first century, Passover was a celebration and commemoration of God's having delivered his people from Egypt for the purpose of establishing his covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. It also served to renew that covenant in the present and anticipate God's final consummation of that covenant in a future restoration. All of that is caught up into the meaning of Jesus' Last Supper as he goes to the cross to accomplish all that Passover represented: deliverance, renewal, and restoration.

Second, I find Letham's historical overview of the Supper also to be a bit puzzling. To term "transubstantiation" and "consubstantiation" as modes of "physical presence" seems misleading at best, even if that is how those views may have been popularly understood by those whose churches held to them. But Thomas Aquinas and other theologians are very clear that the presence of Christ in the eucharist is a different mode of presence from what I believe we would ordinarily think of as "physical."

I also find it odd that Letham traces transubstantiation back to the earliest centuries of the church when it is far from clear that the varied views of the Fathers really would count as a belief in some kind of "corporal" presence of Christ, even if their views proved an impetus to later developments. Additionally, aligning the notion of "eucharistic sacrifice" in the writings of the Fathers with a belief in Christ's corporal presence not only misconstrues the patristic understandings of that presence, but also what many of the Fathers meant by that "sacrifice" (see de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum for elaboration).

As for Lutheran views, whatever we may think of the notion of the ubiquity of Christ's body, the Formula of Concord is quite clear that communion with the body and blood of the Lord in the eucharist is not to be understood in a carnal or corporal manner, an error they term "Capernaic" after the misunderstanding of the Jews in John 6. Rather, the Lutheran standards insist, the mode of Christ's presence is a "celestial" one.

Third, Letham summarizes the eucharist in three aspects: [a] a memorial, [b] a proclamation of the gospel, and [c] a participation in the body and blood of the Lord (pp. 6-7). Throughout the book, however, he concentrates on explicating [c] and seemingly treats [a] and [b] as if they were uncontroversial and agreed upon. But this seems to me to be an overly-narrow understanding of what it means for the Supper to be a "memorial" and a "proclamation."

What is usually meant by a "memorial" in evangelical circles is an individual and subjective remembering of Jesus and his work, and that is the understanding that Letham seems to assume. But it is not clear that this is the primary intent of what Jesus established since, in the Scriptures, a "memorial" is not so much a subjective remembering but an objective commemoration before the face of God and people (as Jeremias and Thurian have shown). Arguably, it is such a notion of an objective memorial that the Westminster Confession has in mind when it speaks of the Supper as "a commemoration of that one offering up" of Christ (29.7).

On this understanding, the action of the eucharist is one by which the people of God make remembrance of Christ's one sacrifice and do so before the face of the Father himself, confessing thereby that Christ alone is our propitiation and life, and pleading the promises held forth in him. This view is standard among Reformed divines as diverse as Perkins, du Molin, de Mornay, Turretin, and Polanus. Richard Baxter, for example, writes that the Supper is a means by which the church, "might show the Father that sacrifice, made once for sin, in which they trust, and for which it is that they expect all the acceptance of their persons with God, and hope for audience, when they beg for mercy, and offer up prayer or praises to him" (The Christian Directory II.xxiv. Direction II.ii).

If this is what Jesus meant by establishing the Supper as a "memorial," then we may also ask if this is the manner in which the Supper "proclaims the Lord's death" and if God is a primary audience for that proclamation.

Fourth, Letham needs to take greater account of the ecclesial context of the Supper as something that thoroughly informs how we think about the Supper as a memorial, as a proclamation of the Lord's death, and as communion with Christ. While he does note that we have "communion with Christ, and at the same time and as a direct corollary, communion with the body of Christ" (p. 39), he does not trace out the profound implications of this insight, even if he does speak against American evangelical individualism.

So, for instance, we might argue that the Supper functions as a commemoration of Jesus' death not merely in its ritual action (as Letham suggests, p. 50), but particularly as the action of a gathered people who proclaim that death precisely by eating and drinking together--forgiven and forgiving, reconciled to God and to one another, in unity and love (see Leithart's article in WTJ 59). Likewise, the presence of Christ and our receiving his body and blood might also be placed in the context of the ecclesial body, Christus totus.

Fifth, I simply note my belief that Letham is mistaken in his understanding of those who advocate paedo-communion. While paedo-communion certainly goes against the tide of certain traditions within Reformed Protestantism, there are some weighty biblical arguments in favor of it, none of which Letham engages even superficially. His dismissal of it is very strangely tied to his attempt to align it with a belief in either transubstantiation or baptistic memorialism. The irony, of course, is that neither of the major traditions that hold these views actually supports paedo-communion!

Letham also seems unaware that the same arguments by which Reformed theology has always deflected the Baptist requirement for public repentance and profession of faith as prerequisite for baptism might equally be deployed against his requirement for explicit repentance, faith, and self-examination as qualifications for communion. I would agree we should take the requirement of 1 Corinthians 11 for self-examination very seriously. But in context the requirement is that we examine ourselves to determine if we are truly discerning the Body of the Lord (1 Cor 11:28-29), that is, whether or not we are creating unnecessary divisions within the ecclesial Body that gathers around the table (1 Cor 1:11-13; 11:18-22). If we continue to exclude baptized children from the table, however, one might argue that we are the ones in need of self-examination.

In conclusion, whatever the weaknesses of Letham's book--and they are largely ones of omission--he has provided the evangelical and Reformed church a much needed wake-up call. The holy eucharist has too long been relegated to the sidelines of our spirituality, piety, and worship. My hope is that Letham's clear and encouraging tract will bring about the kind of sacramental revival for which the Reformers worked so hard.

Since it's December 6th, this means it's also St. Nicholas Day! I hope he filled your shoes with all kinds of goodies last night.

Here's the true story of St. Nicholas:

He was born into a wealthy Christian home in the third century. Nicholas felt a deep calling toward Christian service and was duly ordained a priest. His parents died while he was still rather young, leaving him a grand inheritance. Nicholas in turn devoted his riches to the service of God.

St. Nicholas' most famous act of charity involved a nobleman of Patara who had suddenly become bankrupt. The poor man had three daughters whom he wished to marry off. Customarily, the father awarded the groom a dowry, but being impoverished the man could not provide husbands for his girls. Unable to support his daughters, he resolved to sell them into prostitution. Nicholas was grieved when he heard of this situation.

Under the cover of night, the saint secretly threw a bag of gold in the poor man's open window. Upon finding it in the morning, the man was delighted. The man used the gold as a dowry and a suitor took his eldest daughter in marriage. As time passed Nicholas did the same for the second daughter. The man was gratefully suspicious and when Nicholas came by the third time, the poor man caught him. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the poor man thanked Nicholas for his generosity. Nicholas begged the man not to reveal his charity to the public.

After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Nicholas was elected Bishop of Myra at the end of the 3rd century. This was an era of great persecution against the Christians and Nicholas along with much of his flock were seized, tortured, chained, and imprisoned by the Roman magistrates. Nicholas was in prison when Constantine the Great arose to imperial power in AD 312. He was freed and returned to Myra. The bishop incessantly preached against paganism and legend has it that he destroyed a temple dedicated the goddess Artemis.

Another story involves Nicholas rescuing men condemned to death. The governor Eustathius had been bribed to execute three innocent prisoners. At the time of the execution, Bishop Nicholas arrived and approached the prisoners. The saint stayed the hand of the executioner and released the three men. Nicholas then turned around to the evil governor Eustathius and reproached him until finally the governor confessed his crime and repented.

St. Nicholas died in December 6th either 345 or 352 and was buried in Myra. In eleventh century there was a great competition between Venice and Bari for the saint's relics and eventually Bari received the saint's body on May 9, 1087. It said that the body of Nicholas produces a sweet smelling myrrh, even to this day. As a result, many pilgrims are drawn to his tomb.

In Christian iconography, St. Nicholas is depicted more frequently than any other saint, except for St. Mary the Mother of Christ. He is often represented as holding three purses. Nicholas is the patron-saint of children, sailors, Greece, Apulia, Sicily, Russia (along with St Andrew), and Lorraine.

Because the saint's day is so close to Christmas, and because his three gifts to the poor man are somewhat analogous to the three gifts received by Christ from the Magi, St. Nicholas became closely associated to Christmas. Currently he is the most venerated saint in America, though ignorantly under the guise of "Santa Claus" (a corruption of "Sanctus Nikolaus" or the like).

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

(info on st nick, courtesy of taylor marshall)

Ahh. It's another bright and sunny day. The weather is warm and lovely, going up to 70 degrees.

Of course, it's also December 6th and we're in Pennsylvania. Argh!

When, pray tell, is it going to begin to feel like winter is just around the corner? We haven't even begun to decorate for the holidays. Part of it is that we've both been sick recently (weather related, no doubt). But it also doesn't feel like Advent, so why bother decorating? After all, there are roses and other flowers still blooming outside. Maybe if I had grown up in Texas or something I could handle this. But I didn't.

Please, God. Send a nice Canadian cold front through here soon. Please?

05 December 2001

The other day someone related to me a conversation with a friend of his in which he was talking to the friend about some theological topic and appealed to the witness of Augustine. The friend replied, in all seriousness, "Why on earth do we need Augustine when we have Machen and van Til?"

I'm continuing to work my way through The Study of Anglicanism (edited by Sykes, Booty, and Knight). I recently finished reading the chapter on "Councils, Conferences, and Synods" as well as the earlier chapter on "Fathers, Tradition, and Councils." It seems to me that the early Anglican divines held to a well-balanced and helpful view of the relative authority and weight of the early general councils and Fathers, under Scripture. I'm reminded here of Calvin's discussion.

Calvin denies that even a general council is necessarily infallible in its teaching (Institutes 4.8.10-16). Nevertheless, he maintains that the teachers God has ordained for his church, do possess a necessary ministry and significant authority from God, individually and in council "to lay down articles of faith...and to explain them" (Institutes 4.8.1; cf. 4.3.2-3). While Calvin goes on to criticize how the church's teaching authority has been often been exercised, he insists that this "does not mean that I esteem the ancient councils less than I ought, for I venerate them from my heart, and desire that they should be honored by all" (Institutes 4.9.1). Indeed, he goes on to say,
...if any discussion arises over doctrine, the best and surest remedy is for a synod of faithful bishops to be convened, where the doctrine at issue may be examined. Such a definition, upon which the pastors of the church agree in common, invoking Christ's Spirit, will have much more weight than if each one, having conceived it separately at home, should teach it to the people, or if a few private individuals should compose it...And the very feeling of piety so instructs us that, if any disturb the church with a strange doctrine, and the matter reach the point where there is danger of greater dissension, the church should first assemble, examine the question put, and finally, after due discussion, bring forth a definition derived from Scripture which would remove all doubt from the people... (Institutes 4.9.13)
According to Calvin, any such decisions made in the past and appealed to in the present, moreover, should be diligently pondered and given their proper weight (Institutes 4.9.8). Thus, Calvin does not allow liberty of conscience with regard to doctrine to devolve into an individualist subjectivism, but places it within the context of a pious submission of the mind to the proper teaching authority of the church under Scripture.

I wish that American evangelicals would, with Calvin and Anglicanism, have such high regard for the catholicity of church and pious veneration for the work of the Spirit through his gift of pastors and teachers over the centuries.

By the way, the title of the book is originally Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. That's how they still sell it in the UK. Naturally, as a professional philosopher, I take personal offense at the American marketers' decision to change the title.

The American Philosophical Association seems happy to dish out its opinions on everything from homosexuality to the death penalty. So why haven't they issued a protest about Harry Potter?

Mark has put up a very helpful list of Advent and Christmas links on his blog. They're helpful at least if your holiday traditions involve getting cross-examined by certain kinds of neo-puritans for having holiday traditions.

04 December 2001

The Israelis and Palestinians are at it again.

A few years ago it seemed that the Oslo accords held out of the possibility of Israel and Palestine actually coming to some kind of compromise. But that hope has faded.

I'm no expert on mid-east politics and I know that there has been a great deal of wrong-doing on both sides over many, many years, but I have a lot of trouble understanding the Israelis, especially Sharon, during the intifada of the past year. It really seems to me that the present government of Israel does not want peace and wants to create almost any excuse to attack the Palestinians.

Remember that much of this renewed conflict began with Sharon's foolish visit to the Dome of the Rock last year. He had to have known that this was a provocative attack upon symbols important to many Palestinians. And over the past weeks Sharon has kept saying again and again that he would not sit down with Arafat until seven days passed without any incident, knowing full well that to make such a demand was basically to fling wide a door to Palestinian extremists who want to scuttle any peace process. And now, he has attacked the headquarters of Arafat himself, holding Arafat personally responsible for the recent bombings as if Arafat could have entirely prevented an incident that even Israeli intelligence seem not to have expected (how can you expect and prevent someone strapping bombs to themselves and blowing themselves up?). If Arafat were to be killed, Sharon knows the Palestinians would become more militant and that whoever was to step in to take Arafat's place would likely be far less conciliatory.

Why should anyone think that Sharon wants peace? It looks to me that all he wants is an excuse for war.

As I noted earlier, we went to the Harry Potter movie with our ten year old nephew a couple of weekends ago. While the film was enjoyable, I have to agree with the many kids I've seen interviewed who said that they liked the book much better. It's great to see kids prefering literature over Hollywood for a change.

My wife and I read all four of the Harry Potter books aloud to one another over the past couple of years and thought they were great. Rowling exercises her literary craft well, following the traditions of Tolkien, Lewis, and other fantasy writers, and combining elements of mystery, coming-of-age story, adventure, quest tale, school narrative, and so on. It's hard not to like and identify with Harry in his various mishaps and adventures.

We want Harry to win out over the forces of darkness, for good to triumph in the face of evil, and we understand Harry's story to be one more variation on the great Story of which we are all part. And that Story is a prominent (even if unintended) motif of the second volume in the series: a young girl held captive in the serpent's spell must be rescued by a hero who wins only through sacrificing himself and who must be raised up again by the father-figure in whom he has placed his love and trust. If that's not the Gospel, I don't know what is.

I know some Christians have problems with Rowling's books, but I really can't see why. The genre is fantasy and most children old enough to read are quite capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. The books, thus, really have nothing to do with witchcraft or occult practices. Even within the world that Rowling creates, magic does not function as a spiritual force that can be manipulated to one's own ends, but as a technology or art for which some people have an inborn gift, as in our world some people are born to play the violin. The use of magic does not involve calling upon spirits or tapping into dark powers. And the one area which does verge upon the occult--fore-telling the future--is routinely mocked, not merely as inaccurate, but also as a sham.

Rather, magic in all its manifestations is presented almost as a science which requires care, memorization, practice, historical context, and study. As such Rowling's "magic" comes to symbolize the powerful tools of art, science, and technology that, in our world, can also require study and can be used both for great good and terrible evil.

It is also emphasized in all the books that the most powerful forces in the world are ultimately the forces of virtue, wit, friendship, loyalty, trust, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love. Even in the first book, Harry's ultimate victory does not come from superior magical powers, but through Hermione's good sense, Ron's endangerment of himself for the sake of others, and the traces of his mother's great love for him that Harry continues to carry in his heart. Rowling's moral world is thus one that is clear and correct.

Again, I know some Christians have criticized the ethics of Harry Potter, especially as we see the adult rules being broken time after time by Harry and his friends. But that misses the point. The story is one of growing ethical maturity and a sense of virtue. But virtue is never a matter of simply following the rules.

The dramatic tension arises from Harry's attempts to grapple with what path is the right one to take, Hermione's rule-following morality at his one hand and Ron's rule-transcending loyalty at the other. The virtue of wisdom or prudence must be exercised in order to choose aright in such a situation. Moreover, it is clear, in some cases, that those caring figures of authority at Hogwarts allow such situations to arise precisely to encourage the development of such virtues. And when Harry or his friends choose wrongly, there are serious consequences.

Such a moral universe, I submit, is not permissive and does not encourage disobedience. Rather it is realistic, calling us to live out our deepest values in a world that is morally complex and dangerous. It does not give the simplistic answers suited for the very young, but asks the reader to mature with Harry, exercising wisdom and insight. Of course, such a portrayal of morality may be unacceptable to a certain kind of evangelicalism or fundamentalism that focuses itself upon legalistic rule-making and pat answers.

It is such a Christian outlook, I suppose, that also eschews the Harry Potter phenomenon in an attempt to remain separate from the "world" and to bear witness to our "difference" as Christians. Insofar as that means a refusal to give into marketing and the cult of material acquisition that has grown up around the books, I can concur. But as Christians we also have a duty to recognize God's good gifts where they are present, including the gift of literature, and to receive them with gratitude. "Taste not," "touch not," and "read not" remain doctrines that the real dark powers wish to use among us so that our loving God can be shown to the world as a humorless despot and to breed a sense of spiritual superiority in our own hearts.

A Christian witness, then, is one that takes up even Harry Potter with thanksgiving for the joy the books have brought so many and for Rowling's literary talent. And having taken them up, we share them with one another, evaluating them (and criticizing when necessary), but also seeking ways in which, through them, Christ can be made present to our world.

02 December 2001

"Wyclif" recently pointed me to An English Prayer Book (Oxford University Press, 1994), a version of the 1662 BCP updated in language and some usage. It is available most inexpensively from Church Society in the UK.

I've been browsing through it some and do like it. It is a vast improvement over the archaic language of the original 1662 edition. And some of the changes in usage and order are definitely for the better. For instance, moving the "Our Father" from the very beginning of the communion service into the actual communion rite itself seems to be a sensible change (though I'm puzzled why it is placed after the distribution rather than as part of the eucharistic prayers by which the congregation offers themselves up to God in Christ). So it seems to me that the revisions are all headed in the right direction.

But I'm mystified why some Anglicans still want to perpetuate the peculiarities of the English liturgical tradition (e.g., putting the Gloria in excelsis at the very end) at the expense of the wider traditions of the church as they have been maintained or recovered within Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic communions. The Church of England's Common Worship materials (which supercede the earlier 1980 Alternative Service Book), seem to me to do a better job of preserving the flavor and language of Cranmer's genius while, at the same time, bringing the Anglican tradition more into line with the church catholic and the past century of liturgical scholarship.

That is, however, simply my considered opinion. I'm open to argument from other perspectives.

01 December 2001

It's been a while since I posted anything here...since before Thanksgiving, actually.

Life has been very busy in the past week and a half. In addition to a large stack of grading (papers, homeworks, quizzes, etc.), I had to complete four separate assignments that were due for the religion class I've been taking. Last week Friday we went to see the Harry Potter movie with our nephew Nate--a lot of fun. Sunday we had toddler room duty at church. On Wednesday I was one of the chaperones for a field trip with two classes of freshman to go see Lerner and Lowe's My Fair Lady at the Walnut Street Theatre. And then Laurel got sick with a respiratory infection.

Between the holidays and other work I managed to get a lot less sleep than usual, walked around in a daze for part of the week, and then came down with some kind of virus too. Today, I'm finally feeling better and more rested. I'll get around to some new posts here soon, I hope.