Sunday, June 11, 2017

Frederick Douglass: "This good spirit was from God"

"I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd's plantation as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery... I have ever regarded it as the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since attended me, and marked my life with so many favors...
"I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor. But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving a praise."
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, New York: Barnes & Noble Classic (2003), p. 39.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

False Teaching as a Positive Opportunity for Christian Investigation & Instruction

Rather than seek political means to suppress false teachers, Christians, as citizens of the City of God (Hebrews 11:14-16, 12:22, & Revelation 3:12, 21:1-3), must see this as a positive opportunity to both investigate and better understand the Bible, and then to instruct listeners in the universal Christian faith. As Augustine of Hippo noted early in the fifth century:

“For while the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the catholic [i.e. universal] faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction.”

  • The City of God, Book XVI, section 2, trans. By Marcus Dods, New York: Barnes & Noble, pp. 622-623.

Unfortunately, many Christians throughout history, including even Augustine, ultimately sought political means to suppress false teachers. Yet, a human power to do good also implies a human power to do evil, which means using the political power of a "city of man" (as Augustine called secular governments) to suppress false teachers ultimately leads to using political power to suppress true teachers of the Christian faith. 

In contrast, the Jews of the city of Berea in Acts 17:10-1, upon hearing the good news about Jesus from the Apostle Paul and Silas, "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." As a result, many in Berea believed the good news about Jesus. May we all be as these believers when confronting seemingly new ideas in order to discern and distinguish false teaching from ideas compatible with universal Christian truth found in the Bible.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Myth in Christian Understanding

I saw the movie, Wonder Woman (2017), today with my family and thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend this movie. It is set in a mythical background that enters into human history. This is not a Christian movie, of course, nor a Christian themed movie. However, I appreciate the mythical aspect of the movie, along with some of the meanings conveyed therein.
Why, as a Christian, can I appreciate myth? Did not the Apostle Paul write, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths..."? (I Timothy 4:7). Yes, and should anyone see Wonder Woman and adopt it as their religion, they would be irreverent and silly. No, I do not mean "myth" as the Apostle Paul wisely warned us to avoid. Rather, I mean myth as explained by C. S. Lewis:
"This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history (as Euhemerus thought) nor diabolical illusion (as some of the Fathers thought) nor priestly lying (as the philosophers of the Enlightenment thought) but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination." 
- C S Lewis, Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs, New York: Collier Books (1960), p. 134 fn.
One of my favorite books by Lewis is Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, which has a strong woman as the main character (she is not Wonder Woman, but does fight a battle as Queen of her country). Anyone reading and understanding this story cannot miss its Christian theme. However, anyone believing myth can only be "misunderstood history," "diabolical illusion," or "priestly lying" will miss the Christian message in this book. Likewise, they will likely miss the "unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination" in modern fiction, as well.
To believe myths as if they were nonfiction is, indeed, irreverent and silly, as the Apostle Paul instructed. To find God's truth outside of the Bible in works of fiction, though unfocused and only as a glimmer of the true light found only in the Bible, takes understanding and discernment. I hope more Christians train themselves in God's Word to be able to understand and discern God's truth wherever it is found. It is the Bible where we find ultimate truth by which we can understand and discern values found in other works.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Liberating Free Choice

" choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity...but rather from sin, into which it had fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne."
- Bernard of Clairvaux, On Grace & Free Choice, translated by Daniel O'Donovan OCSO, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publicans Inc., p. 63.