George F. Will’s op-ed this morning in the Washington Post is fantastic.
“[Kay Hymowitz] says America’s middle class demands K-12 education that cultivates and celebrates each child’s individuality. Yet the middle class also expects schools to instill this class’s values — accountability, diligence, civility, self-control — ‘that are often in direct tension with students’ autonomy and individuality’…
‘In other cultures, both East and West,’ Hymowitz writes, “parents prize manners and ritualized courtesies over the child’s self-expression. The French teach their two-year-olds to say “bonjour, madame“ or “monsieur” in every encounter.’ Such ritualized greetings strike Americans as artificial and a worrying sign of an overly programmed child.’
They are artificial. As is civilization.”
“The posture of standing [in the public prayer of the church] has been objected to by some…as fatiguing to the feeble and inform. But if the officiating minister be tolerably discreet in the length of his prayers, this objection can have little or no force to those who are in ordinary health. It will, surely, rather be a relief than otherwise to stand up ten, or at most, twelve minutes when the sitting posture is to be maintained during almost the entire remainder of the time allotted to the public services.”
-Samuel Miller, Thoughts on Public Prayer (page 127).
Sometimes I wonder if I pray too long in church (and sometimes my congregants tell me I do) but by Miller’s standards I have been excessively discreet.
Last year, I was horrified at the reports that protestors and parishioners had been gassed by police so that President Trump could have a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Well, an internal investigation under the Biden administration has turned up that the police had cleared people from the area for unrelated reasons, and then President Trump arrived for the photo-op. I still think the photo-op itself and the unrelated, indiscriminate gassing of parishioners and clergy was bad, but my characterization of President Trump’s actions was premised upon a falsehood.
My book review of Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson’s Reparations: A Call for Repentance and Repair is up at Mere Orthodoxy. Kwon and Thompson make the case that White churches owe African Americans reparations. I expect that their work will be a starting point for a lot of reparation discussions in Presbyterian circles in the near future. The book was compelling, but overreached. Here’s an excerpt of my reivew,
I was persuaded of the biblical arguments for reparations before reading Kwon and Thompson, and their work only strengthened that conviction. But the application of that biblical principle into the life of the church? My church, where I pastor? The duty of Christian love and sacrifice in working towards repair does not go away if fault is cleared, but the bedrock of Kwon and Thompson’s argument is that reparations is the complicit returning what was stolen. It is not ethical bean counting or an evasion of loving obligation to take that aspect of their argument seriously and then to assess its claims of historical moral responsibility for my congregation.
Wesley Hill’s essay this morning in the Los Angeles Review of Books is troubling for the reality it exposes. Hill begins by relating a story from his college days when a classmate was in agony over her salvation status as a result of studying Jonathan Edwards. In contrast, another classmate who simultaneously studied Edwards, was about to be confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, and Hill asked him why.
My friend was slow in replying. ‘When I was an evangelical,’ he finally said, ‘I was always wondering whether I was doing enough. Or whether I was studying enough—had figured out the Bible well enough—or praying enough. I felt that I had to sort out my theology and gauge whether I was ‘spiritual’ enough. But, being Catholic, I don’t have to figure anything out. I trust the Church to offer salvation. Communion is the body and blood of Christ, and when I receive it, I know I’m receiving grace.’
When the Roman Catholic Church’s practices offer assurances of grace and evangelical culture does not, something has gone terribly wrong. Hill is commending Philip Cary’s book on the subject, Good News for Anxious Christians, and argues that Protestants can recapture this calm through liturgical and sacramental practices. He’s right: too often evangelicals look inwardly for their own assurance of salvation, when the gospel is that Jesus is our assurance of salvation. When experience rather than the work of Christ becomes the ground of assurance, anxiety (or pride) is all that remains. The worship of the church, at least in its historic forms, was designed to root people in doxological encounter with Jesus; recovering that is recovering faith in Jesus instead of pressing for faith in faith.