Thursday, August 23, 2007

minkema strikes back

on july 22nd, JEC executive director ken minkema was featured in a boston globe story about some long-lost books of massachusetts church records.

a quote from ken: "'I can't emphasize how amazingly important this is,' said Minkema, beaming."

check out the whole article here...Link

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

beauty and synthesis

Here at the office we get GoogleAlerts on all things relating to Jonathan Edwards. A guy who comes up from time to time is a computer programmer named Jonathan Edwards. A research fellow at MIT, he posts on his blog, Alarming Development, about all sorts of programming futurism.

Usually his posts are way over my head, but today I saw something quite interesting. He posted a response to a book just published by O'Reilly (computer publishing bigdog) called Beautiful Code. The book's basic thesis is that beauty should be a guiding principle of computer programming as the most beautiful things also tend to be the simplest and best things.

Interesting. Absolute. Edwardsean.

However, Jonathan Edwards the MIT programmer takes umbrage at this statement for another very Edwardsean reason: human inability.

Jonathan Edwards, programmer writes:
"A lesson I have learned the hard way is that we aren’t smart enough. Even the most brilliant programmers routinely make stupid mistakes. Not just typos, but basic design errors that back the code into a corner, and in retrospect should have been obvious. The human mind can not grasp the complexity of a moderately sized program, much less the monster systems we build today. This is a bitter pill to swallow, because programming attracts and rewards the intelligent, and its culture encourages intellectual arrogance. I find it immensely helpful to work on the assumption that I am too stupid to get things right. This leads me to conservatively use what has already been shown to work, to cautiously test out new ideas before committing to them, and above all to prize simplicity."
Click here to read the whole post.

This got me to thinking about Jonathan Edwards the theologian, and the relationship between his aesthetics, his treatment of human fallenness, and his sense of the world as being a system for enacting God's redemption for the sake of God's glory. There are so many places to go to ponder this, but I landed at Miscellany 1296, on the New Heavens and New Earth.

Jonathan Edwards, theologian writes:
"The most perfect and beautiful material parts of this lower creation are, in a sort, animated, having a vegetative life, and these parts we see receive a great alteration and are made unspeakably more excellent and beautiful on the presence of the sun. 'Tis probable that the material parts of that most perfect part of all the creation, the heaven of heavens, the paradise of God, are most resembled by the most perfect parts of this world.

Indeed, in some respects the animated parts of this lower, material world are less perfect than some of those that are not animated, particularly in that they are not so durable. Hence, perhaps some may be ready to imagine that all susceptibleness of change in material things is an imperfection of them, as arguing corruptibleness and a being easily destroy[ed], as we see grass, leaves, flowers, and plants in general, that so easily put on a new form, are easily destroyed and sooner decay and come to a dissolution than other things that are hardest, most fixed, and furthest from any such mutability, as gold, diamonds, etc.

But because we see it to be so here, this is no argument that it is so in all other worlds. 'Tis no evidence that hardness and fixedness of substance is necessary to durability. It will certainly be otherwise in heaven. The glorified bodies of the saints will be exceeding far from this fixedness. They (as we must suppose) will be most flexible, movable and agile, most easily susceptive of mutation, both from the acts of the indwelling soul and also from the influence of Christ, who will be as it were the animating soul of that whole world, the common fountain of all life, and animating influence, and yet will be immortal and incorruptible. The fixedness of these inanimate parts of this lower world is really an imperfection, wherein appears most of that chief imperfection of material things, as below the things which are spiritual, even their inert quality, or what philosophers call vis inertiae..."
Click here to read the whole post.

What hath Cambridge to say to Stockbridge? Stockbridge to Cambridge? And who says that theology is esoteric theory......enjoy!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why Did Graham Preach Sinners?

There has been a really wonderful response to our online exhibit about Billy Graham's preaching of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Looking at this week's cover of Time magazine, it seems clear that now is the time to be thinking about the man who was not only the 20th century's more popular evangelist but also the presidential pastor-in-residence.

As such, I'd like to highlight a question that remains in my mind at fifty years distance from Graham's preaching of Sinners: Why did he choose to preach it?

  • Was he out of sermon ideas?
  • Did Sinners simply interest him?
  • Was he trying to get a reaction from a complacent crowd using a surefire rhetorical tactic that he would later regret, as a couple of biographers have noted?
  • Or was there something more going on, some kind of theological alignment in which Graham showed himself to bear the colors of traditional American theological orthodoxy while modifying it slightly for the sake of his national political context?

This is a question that Andrew Finstuen takes up in his very fine article found on our website as part of the Graham/Sinners exhibit.

Here's a lengthy quote from Andrew's paper:

"...If Graham’s reassurances were ultimately inconsequential to the larger theme of the sermon, his moral gloss on behavioral sins, although brief, was an important departure from the original text. At a point where Edwards commented upon the “torments of hell” that resided in “the very nature of carnal men,” Graham decried the sins of “the people on the Sunset Strip” and of “the people in the gambling dens of iniquity tonight in Los Angeles.” Whereas Edwards was in this passage more alert to sin as a state of being, Graham remarked upon particular sins, such as those of the Sunset Strip—likely a reference to sex and alcohol—and those of the gambling den.

This moralistic tendency was a signature aspect of Graham’s ministry. Both at the Los Angeles Crusade and in his subsequent campaigns and books he often discussed sin as a matter of bad behavior rather than as a constitutive aspect of human character. Sex and alcohol were some of his favorite targets for his diatribes against particular “sins.” For example, sex—which Graham called “America’s greatest sin” in 1955—threatened “the very structure of our society!” Evidence of licentiousness was everywhere. The “outward signs of inward impurity” included “the shifty eye” and the “lewd stare.” Such alarmist comments became less frequent as Graham matured theologically, though he never completely eliminated such hyperbole from his sermons and books. As late as 1965, for example, he warned that immorality would be the undoing of western civilization, observing that the decadent “moral binge” of mid-century superseded even the excesses of pagan Rome.
Graham’s admittedly embellished denunciations of the poor state of American morality masked his concern for the larger problem of concupiscence, the theological term for the sin of unlimited desire. Graham, to be sure, did not provide a full account of this deeper interpretation of desire in 1949. But as his career advanced into the next decade he developed this aspect of his theology of sin. For Graham, the void present among Christians and non-Christians who lacked a personal relationship with Jesus Christ drove them to “search for something” that might give life meaning, peace, and happiness. This search sent humans in all directions, and many Americans, Graham asserted, preferred the “altars of appetite and desire” to the wisdom of God. The outcome of these searches was always the same: emptiness and misery.

Graham did not, however, indict worldly pleasures as such, but the flagrant abuse of pleasure. For example, even sex was not sinful in itself, but rather it was the misuse of sex that concerned Graham. His emphasis on such particular sins likewise veiled his insistence that “right living” had nothing to do with salvation. Although he often appeared to preach a gospel of good behavior, Graham insisted throughout his career, just as Edwards had done in his warning against the morally calculated life, that that no one earned, by behavior or otherwise, the blessing of God. As he definitively stated in his best selling Peace With God in 1953, Christians could not “worship, or moralize [their] way to God.” These subtleties, though, were often lost amidst his own moral jeremiads and the prejudices of his many critics.

Apart from Graham’s condemnation of the Sunset Strip, the second noteworthy departure form “Sinners” was his decision to stop preaching well short of Edwards’s original conclusion...."

Click here to download Finstuen's paper

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