Cromwell’s Rule

Cromwell's Rule
In mathematics, Cromwell’s Rule represents the important concept that prior probabilities may be set arbitrarily close to zero or one, but should not be exactly so. In politics, theology and other life pursuits, a recognition of the possibility that we may be mistaken is what allows each of us to listen to others with respect.

As believers, we know well that we fall short of perfect truth in what we believe (as surely as we fall short of perfect obedience in what we do).

Let us rejoice that God does not grant his grace on the basis of our theological perfection.

If the salt has lost its savor . . .

current reading 2An interesting take on the expected reconstruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris:

small quotes blueYou can’t understand the current rebuilding project without understanding the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day of the year 800; and Pope Gregory VII’s role [in] the Investiture Controversy, with its culmination in the humiliation of Henry IV in the snow at Canossa; and the emergence of the Cuius regio, eius religio principle in the Reformation era; and the violent dechristianizing of France during the Revolution; and the vain struggle of Pio Nono against the unification of Italy, ending in the elimination of the Papal States and the loss of all secular power for the Papacy; and the emergence of the Deutsche Christen in the Nazi era, when German pastors competed with one another to defend the celebrate the subservience of (especially but not only) the Lutherans to Hitler.

Alan Jacobs, “The building on the Île de la Cité,” Snakes and Ladders (April 17, 2019) [link].


A convert reflects on how the emptiness of secularism . . . and Christian practice:

small quotes blueI had plenty of opportunities to engage with orthodox Christians, and I sincerely wanted Christianity to be true. It was clear to me that what the authorities in my world celebrated—the collapse of family life, the slaughter of the unborn, the deterioration of high culture—were, in truth, social evils that followed from the decline of the Church. Christianity seemed the natural alternative to secularity.

Jacob Williams, “Why I became Muslim,” First Things (May 2019) [link]. Rod Dreher comments on the First Things piece in The American Conservative: “Why convert to Islam?” (April 15, 2019) [link].

What about sin?

current reading 2It is hard for non-believers to understand just why Christians are always so concerned with the idea of sin. Simeon Zahl, in an essay reprinted in Mockingbird (“Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin”) explains why, and why this is significant.

small quotes blueWhen I try to explain [to my students] that Christians have traditionally believed that human beings are deeply flawed from birth, and furthermore that God is profoundly unhappy about these flaws, I watch my students’ eyes grow skeptical. I watch their postures shift the way students always do when they disagree with what you are telling them. . . .

*    *    *

My point is this: in the edifice of Christian belief, the doctrine of sin is a major load-bearing structure. It is not theologically optional. To lose it, or to downplay it, or to reframe it in terms that are less offensive to our sense of self-worth, is in the long run to render Christianity unintelligible to people.

This reminds me of C.S. Lewis, who made much the same point in his essay “God in the Dock”:

small quotes blueThe greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

God in the Dock, 243–4 (1970).

Zahl goes on to offer some ways of thinking about sin which may communicate the truth about sin to modern people (like each of us) who have been trained to think in very different terms. He ends by saying:

small quotes blueIt is only in our sickness that we recognize the Physician. It is our sin that makes Christ intelligible to us.

Worth the time.

Not just forgiveness

Rachael Denhollander was interviewed by Christianity Today in the aftermath of her statement to the Court in the Nassar sentencing. (If you have not yet read “No True Grace Without Real Judgment” and her statement, please do that now.)

She talks bluntly about the tendency — which she feels is universal — for church leadership to protect the “the perceived reputation of the gospel of Christ” rather than the victims of sexual abuse, when the abuse occurs in the church. It is an uncomfortable indictment.

Here is her conclusion:

“[T]he gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.

[And] that obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.

As usual, I urge you to read the whole interview. Morgan Lee, “Interview with Rachael Denhollander,”* Christianity Today (Jan. 31, 2018) [link].

Ms. Denhollander has thought deeply, theologically, and prayerfully about these things.

*The actual title is “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.”

No true grace without real judgment

reading the law Rachael Denhollander to Larry Nassar:

“In our early hearings, you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

* * *

Continue reading No true grace without real judgment

The Trump Divide

current reading 2Interesting article (and rebuke) by a Catholic writer about the tension Mr. Trump has created within what was once a more unified evangelical community:

Trump’s candidacy and presidency have bitterly divided . . . evangelicals of all stripes, all of whom continue to address each other in harsh tones and with dismissive rhetoric. It is curious to see communities formed by grace show so little of it toward fellow believers. Given their theological kinship and belief in a transcendent and knowable moral order, evangelicals have deep resources for modelling sound deliberation about the common good. Yet deliberation can take place only if evangelicals grant each other room to exercise the core political virtue of prudence. Prudence will not lead all believers down the same political path, but it is best demonstrated in deliberation rather than in incrimination and excommunication.

Darren Guerra, “Donald Trump and the Evangelical ‘Crisis,'” First Things (Jan. 5, 2018).  He suggests that Catholics, Mormons, and mainline Protestants have been dis-stressed in much the same way, but have been less divided by the Trump phenomenon.

Let us strive to show grace even in politics.

For Humiliation

We hate humiliation, but is clearly part of becoming Christ-like. 2 Cor 8:9; Php 2:8; Heb 12:2, etc., etc.

This dense paragraph from Karl Barth karl-barthreminds me that humiliation is displayed by Jesus because it is in his divine nature.  (This is pretty obvious, I guess, but I enjoyed remembering it.)

God does not first elect and determine man but Himself. In His eternal counsel, and then in its execution in time, He determines to address Himself to man, and to do so in such a way that He Himself becomes man. God elects and determines Himself to be the God of man.  And this undoubtedly means . . . that He elects and determines Himself for humiliation. In so doing He does not need to become alien to Himself, to change Himself. The Godhead of the true God is not a prison whose walls have first to be broken through if He is to elect and do what He has elected and done in becoming man. In distinction from that of false gods, and especially the god of Mohammed, His Godhead embraces both height and depth, both sovereignty and humility, both lordship and service. He is the Lord over life and death. He does not become a stranger to Himself when in His Son He also goes into a far country. He does not become another when in Jesus Christ He also becomes and is man.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2, 84 (thanks to Mark Galli).

More on Dr. Hawkins

larycia-hawkinsMore careful irenic writing on the Wheaton College/Larycia Hawkins matter:

  1.  Tracy McKenzie, “Academic Freedom in a Christian Context” Faith & History (Jan. 18, 2016) [link], and (of course)
  2. Alan Jacobs, “Once more on the Academic Freedom Merry-Go-Round” Snakes & Ladders (Jan. 19, 2016) [link].

Jacobs is more or less critiquing a response which McKenzie got to the original piece.  Each writer is calmly thinking through the issues, which seems very appropriate, under the circumstances, and unusual, compared with the rest of the blogosphere.

Climate-change Jeremiah?

Katharine Hayhoe is a Christ-follower and a believer in climate change.  Apparently these are not contradictory positions.

I don’t think there are any churches that have “Thou shalt not believe in climate change” written in their actual statement of faith. However, I think it’s become an unspoken article of faith in many churches because of what we have been told. I’ve even had people tell me that I must not be a Christian because I think climate change is real. But you know, there’s nothing in the Bible that says that. The sad truth is that our thought leaders—many of them in the conservative media and politics—are the ones telling us this isn’t real, and we are believing them.

Ann Neumann, “God’s Creation Is Running a Fever,” Guernica (12/15/2015) [link].