July 25, 2003

Sorry I am MIA so often nowadays. Two escrows, packing up a house, trying to eke out a writing schedule ... the blog just isn't getting my mindshare lately. This will likely continue for another month.

I am happy to report that I've written two chapters of a proposed book introducing theological thinking through my own reflections on the Lord's Prayer. Next on my list is an article I have promised to write on evangelical doctrines of Scripture. I will try to feature samples on this site when appropriate. Thanks for your patience.

I still take a few minutes in the morning to check a few sites. Here, via lgf, is a delightful study by a team of faculty at Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of Maryland of what makes people conservative. You can't make this stuff up:

Concerns with fear and threat, likewise, can be linked to a second key dimension of conservatism – an endorsement of inequality, a view reflected in the Indian caste system, South African apartheid and the conservative, segregationist politics of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South S.C.).

Disparate conservatives share a resistance to change and acceptance of inequality, the authors said. Hitler, Mussolini, and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form. Talk host Rush Limbaugh can be described the same way.


They also stressed that their findings are not judgmental.

"In many cases, including mass politics, 'liberal' traits may be liabilities, and being intolerant of ambiguity, high on the need for closure, or low in cognitive complexity might be associated with such generally valued characteristics as personal commitment and unwavering loyalty," the researchers wrote.


This intolerance of ambiguity can lead people to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic cliches and stereotypes, the researchers advised.

The latest debate about the possibility that the Bush administration ignored intelligence information that discounted reports of Iraq buying nuclear material from Africa may be linked to the conservative intolerance for ambiguity and or need for closure, said Glaser.


The researchers conceded cases of left-wing ideologues, such as Stalin, Khrushchev or Castro, who, once in power, steadfastly resisted change, allegedly in the name of egalitarianism.

Yet, they noted that some of these figures might be considered politically conservative in the context of the systems that they defended. The researchers noted that Stalin, for example, was concerned about defending and preserving the existing Soviet system.


Although they concluded that conservatives are less "integratively complex" than others are, Glaser said, "it doesn't mean that they're simple-minded."

Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions, he said. "They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm," Glaser said.

I was going to fisk this, but it speaks for itself.

Okay, that's not really true. I tried to come up with clever rebuttals ... but my low cognitive complexity made it impossible, my habit of lashing out made the results unprintable, my intolerance for ambiguity left me confused about which of us were right, my lack of integrative complexity made it too difficult to alternate between indented and unindented text, my love of inequality made me swoon at their intellectual superiority, my retriever-like loyalty to the academy made me hesitant to question their credentials, my fear at being psychologically damaged by their sheer rhetorical power left me cowering, and my concern for defending the nonexistent past made me secretly admire the way they are clinging to their parochial mid-twentieth century academic world of liberal hegemony.

Besides, who needs to jump through complex intellectual hoops to mock these people?

9:14 AM

July 19, 2003

Mickey Kaus discovers the way to emancipation from the tyranny of modern 'individualism':

Slate's annual retreat is this weekend. They are probably going to try to make us think outside the box again, when all I want to do is curl up inside the box and go to sleep. ... Everyone is thinking outside the box these days. What takes real boldness and originality is to refuse to go along with the free-thinking herd! Inside the box is the new outside the box!
Nothing liberates like orthodoxy, folks. Think of baptism as the permalink you've been waiting for.

Shabbat shalom.

9:08 AM

July 17, 2003

I received an e-mail from a Westmont graduate, and as I typed out my answer, it occurred to me that it might make a decent post or theological FAQ.

I just recently was hired as a technical writer at [a large engineering firm] and I'm extremely thankful for having an income in such an unstable economy. My dissonance lies in the inner parts. I have always been extremely active in the church and similar organizations ... and feel that somehow I'm not doing what I was put here to do by working in a corporation like this. I had quite a few relatives pass away when I was younger and it made me appreciate each day for its precious nature and the need to run the race as best as possible every day. So to make a long question shorter, I suppose what I'm wondering if I should follow what I feel to be my "calling" ( I hate clichés) like teaching or counseling, even ministry, or if I should stick it out where I am and be a light for as long as possible in this position? Any advice or life experience you could share with me would be fantastic and I'd be much obliged.
I asked questions like that myself in my first years out of college, and changed careers as a result. The answer depends on the person. Many people are called to careers like yours; some are not.

In order to return to Westmont my family has bought a new house, sold our old one, and is moving. We are blessed by real estate agents on both sides who have acted professionally and ethically, by bankers who are helping us arrange the financing, by movers who will take care of our stuff ... and they in turn depend on others to help them do their jobs, in an infinite regress whose complexity is really beyond any one person's comprehension. All of them are doing the work of helping others, and when they do it in Spirit and in truth, that is the work of God's Kingdom.

Several weeks ago our four-year-old girl fell and sustained a concussion and a broken wrist. I drove her to Verdugo Hospital where the admitting receptionist gave her a smile, the night-shift nurse gave her a teddy bear, and the doctor gave her a good prognosis. Several days later a clinic set her arm with a non-plaster cast that lets her swim. The last thing she needed was counseling, let alone courses in Christian doctrine; she needed medical attention. For all the training and expertise and technology that brought it to her, for the sheer accessability of it all, and for the resources we have to pay for it, my family has been thanking God profusely.

Modern lives are characterized by innumerable needs. For many of us they are met so abundantly that we think it normal, and when even one goes unmet we start kvetching. When you can step into the position of meeting someone else's need, and when you can do it out of the love of neighbor that God calls all disciples to, you should do it joyfully rather than guiltily. I don't know whether tech writing is going to be your life; for many recent college grads it takes a couple years to sort out the direction of their lives. I do know that if tech writing is your life, your life can be a very good one.

If you are called to something else – if God has a different set of tasks for you – then tech writing will probably make you miserable, no matter how good at it or who successful you are. Don't ignore whatever pull you are feeling toward vocational ministry. But – in case you are tempted – don't surrender to the notion that vocational ministry is somehow more spiritual than every other way of life. Don't let fellow Christians treat people like you as inferior, and don't let them treat people like me as superior. That's Gnostic.

Moreover, don't be unduly influenced by the badmouthing of business that goes on in parts of our culture. Sure, corporations like yours are powerful. Sure, power like that is threatened by the good news of the Kingdom. Sure, power corrupts. But this is true of all human institutions, even churches and Christian colleges. Remember: Power also blesses, when it is exercised according to that good news.

Whether the pull you feel out of the business world is genuine is a question of discernment. Getting the right answer demands that you and others in your community of faith think through who God is making you and where you ought to be. I would be delighted to help you there if I can, but I think you should start with the people who best know both you and Christ.

12:36 PM

July 14, 2003

Asymmetrical Information is smackdown central on a movement among secularists (agnostics, atheists, naturalists, humanists, etc.) that wants to arrogate to itself the label "Brights":

You may well be a bright. If not, you certainly deal with brights daily. That's because we are all around you: we're doctors, nurses, police officers, schoolteachers, crossing guards and men and women serving in the military. We are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters. Our colleges and universities teem with brights. Among scientists, we are a commanding majority. Wanting to preserve and transmit a great culture, we even teach Sunday school and Hebrew classes. Many of the nation's clergy members are closet brights, I suspect. We are, in fact, the moral backbone of the nation: brights take their civic duties seriously precisely because they don't trust God to save humanity from its follies.
Good grief.

I have only one little thing to add to the avalanche of criticisms at AI (many from the brights' own would-be constituencies): This is nothing new. Centuries ago the champions of post-Christian epistemological departure from tradition decided to borrow a little Greek and Christian imagery and name their movement "the Enlightenment" and the past out of which they grew "the Dark Ages." They got away with it then. This time they won't, not least because they are cheapening what was once a proud intellectual movement into defensive identity/victim politics. The first modernists were brilliant and confident; these folks sound arrogant and desperate.

History repeats itself as farce, I guess.

Like some of the commentors, I actually hope this is satire. Secularism deserves better. Good for the folks at AI for (by and large) resisting it.

10:26 AM

I really am in a good mood today, so please don't misinterpret my response to this e-mail from a student at Hawaii Pacific University as mere snarkiness:

You missed one think when pointing fingers at all those different religions. We are all just people, some bad, some good and some who just want to be left alone. One person that is what I am, so how can I tell one person that my faith is correct and they are wrong. The human mind is only so strong, so how can one person say that the higher being they believe in is greater than that of another view of a higher being. I do not have the answers just think about that though.

"How can I tell one person that my faith is correct and they are wrong." But that's just what you did to me, isn't it? The human mind is only so strong, but mine is strong enough to perceive the breathtaking hypocrisy of relativism.

In all seriousness, can I recommend a book for you? James Wm. McClendon, Jr. and James M. Smith, Convictions: Defusing Religious Relativism (Trinity, 1994). It is not the usual absolutist argument against relativism. If these things are important enough to make you write an e-mail to a stranger, reading a book that improves the way you think about them might just change your life. Not a bad way to spend twenty bucks and a summer day.

(By the way, where was I pointing fingers at different religions? Here? Perhaps you should read that post again, a little more closely.)

Grace and peace to you – really.

9:15 AM

July 9, 2003

This is a great idea.

Too bad my Word 97 can't run it. You will have to live with my prose as-is.

8:13 AM

July 7, 2003

Brad DeLong (via Instapundit) resurrects a wonderful lament from the 1905 Atlantic that professors are underpaid – though, adjusted for inflation and productivity gain, the allegedly inadequate salary of the average American professor would translate to a salary-and-benefits package today of about $250,000.

The article shows how elite education was a hundred years ago. Professors lived as underlings in a patrician world in which they desired only "the proper minimum compensation for a man of long training, education, and refinement." (Salaries beyond that "might be just, but would be undesirable, as they would tend to serve as bait to attract mercenary and lower types of men.") Today collegiate education is solidly middle-class, with respect to both teachers and students. Lifestyles and pay scales have adjusted accordingly, as has the available supply of candidates for teaching positions. (On balance I think this is a very good thing, as it has democratized the professorate and expanded the ideological spectrum of teachers beyond the so-called "petite bourgeoisie" that had traditionally served the upper class.)

It also reveals what a hundred years of uneven productivity gains have done in western economies. Much of the economy has been subject to high rates of productivity growth because of developments in machinery, transportation, medicine, information ... the list is almost endless. You can see this is some of the other extraordinary differences in the article: sky-high medical costs, for instance, and the need for servants to free up time from doing what a few heavy appliances and a computer do for everyone today. Thus a $250,000 salary would go much further today than the professor's $2,000 would have gone in his day.

However, that list is not endless. Teaching today is still basically what it was two thousand years ago: a small faculty training circles of students face-to-face. Printing and travel and e-mail and all the rest have created productivity gains in some areas of education, but its core remains labor intensive. Thus education has become more and more expensive relative to other goods and services. Teachers can complain and unionize all we like and corner-cutters can try everything to achieve economies of scale, but it won't change the fact that it costs a lot to educate students well, and these students come from families many of whom can barely afford the expense as it is.

With a middle-class constituency, an oversupply of candidates, and a productivity plateau, I don't see any change in the long, slow decline in academic salaries (nor the long, slow decline in quality of scholarship that goes with it). There is no easy fix.

Of course, we could raise salaries successfully in two ways: First, further cartelization (restricting supply) would give professors leverage to demand higher pay. Of course, it would raise the cost of education further, discourage poorer families from paying the tuition, and exacerbate the poor employment prospects for doctoral students. This is what both unionization, high academic standards (for instance, requiring a Ph.D.), and guild protectionism tend to do. Second, further subsidy would cover the costs by imposing them on some other part of the budget or economy. This is what public colleges, endowments, lucrative sports programs, part-time positions, moonlighting, and working spouses already do, in their own ways. Imagine how much more these methods would have to kick in if faculty pay scales were to return to their 1905 levels!

Our Atlantic writer doesn't publicly concern himself with where the money for either his current pay or his sixty percent raise will come from. That, he says, is for the trustees to decide.

For them, and for the market. We profs had better hope we get to keep what we already have.

7:46 PM

Historical Jesus scholarship is almost as provocative as the afterlife of pets. I was delighted to receive this e-mail today:

I've been looking for historical Jesus blogs and came across yours (Clutter). I liked what you said on your 6/10 entry: "Every new and recovered insight should take us back to the original traditions and those that have followed ...". I have to tell you, though, that I have rarely come across any scholar who remains true to that.

I am not fond of the work of either Wright or Borg. There is too much emphasis on issues of the Messiah, kingdom of God, eschatology, apocalypticism. I understand these are important issues of faith for Christians. For the Jesus of faith, you do what your heart tells you. But for the historical Jesus, it is beginning at the wrong end.

That's unfair to Wright, as well as E.P. Sanders, Paula Fredricksen, and many others. These scholars are not just doing what their hearts tell them. For instance, Fredricksen is Jewish, but she acknowledges Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet of the Kingdom of God. The eschatological/apocalyptic/Messianic quality of early testimony about Jesus makes these themes impossible to ignore. (For indirect proof, consider the gymnastics to which advocates of the non-eschatological Jesus have to go to explain it away.)

It's like coming upon some workers raising a spire into the air with a crane and they say they are going to construct a building from the top down. You would think they had lost it. Unless you believe that Jesus was born thinking he was the Messiah and consumed by end of times hopes, that's not the way to do it. Best to begin with a foundation. I assume that, as a child, his father and mother and the elders of the village sang songs, told stories, jokes, riddles. Our best evidence for such stuff in 1st century Palestine is rabbinic literature. That's building from the ground up. Most of Jesus' teachings on humility, love, repentance, avoidance of power, etc., have nothing to do with Messianic hopes.
Besides your e-mail, I have taken a quick look at your website and your "Zeffirelli" article. Bearing in mind that this is not much exposure to your thought, here are my reactions to your e-mail:

First of all, an approach centered in rabbinic Judaism is no less top-down than one rooted in the historical curiosity of Jesus-worshippers. The rabbinic tradition was cataclysmically changed by Judaism's destruction and reformation following the Jewish War and the Bar-Kochba Rebellion. The demise of the Sadducees, the priests, the royal line, the Zealots, and the Essenes discredited the eschatologies of each and altered the eschatologies of the survivors. But the earlier eschatologies are the ones jockeying for influence in Jesus' world.

After the cataclysm, two first-century antecedents left standing were the rabbis and the tiny "Nazarenes." These two rival parties changed radically in their new settings, and they naturally read their own worlds back to the first-century past. (This seems to be natural to just about every ideological tradition, religious or not.) This is one reason scholars of the Jewish Jesus spend find the Qumran texts so helpful.

So the traditions that take stable form later in the Mishnah, Talmud, Jewish folk traditions, etc. do in fact shed great light on Jesus' day; but they must be read critically too, especially where the later Jewish tradition diverged from the earlier, more diverse varieties – such as matters of eschatology and Messianism. To appeal to Geza Vermes in The Changing Faces of Jesus (but not to agree with everything else in the book),

To add the final distinguishing touch to the portrait of the real Jesus, emphasis should be placed on the eschatological vision and stimulus of his message which, together with the tragic finale on the cross, invest it with a unique urgency and actuality. Proclaiming not just the nearness, but the virtual and more than once the actual presence of the Kingdom of God, he showed himself an incomparable charismatic and religious teacher. His magnetic appeal became more powerful after his death than it could ever have been during his transient ministry in the late twenties of the first century in the Galilee of Herod Antipas and the Jerusalem of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, and Pontius Pilate, the imperial legate of Judaea (275).
Secondly, you claim that "Unless you believe that Jesus was born thinking he was the Messiah and consumed by end of times hopes, that's not the way to do it." I think that is a reductio ad absurdum. E.P. Sanders notes that there was great diversity in the eschatological hope and Messianic expectation of first-century Israel. We should not reduce the options to two extremes.

Finally, you claim that "Most of Jesus' teachings on humility, love, repentance, avoidance of power, etc., have nothing to do with Messianic hopes." I don't think this is true. The Jerusalem Church alone is enough to demonstrate the association in Jesus' day between what he taught as the Kingdom of God and what his disciples, including Paul, meant by "Messiah."

Having said all that, I do very much appreciate your efforts to root out anti-Jewish biases in both traditional Christian faith and scholarly historiography. After all, I worship a Jew! The polarization between Christianity and Judaism, especially after the Jewish War, has not served Christian theology well at all. Some of the reading on my stack, from Vermes to Copan's and Evans' Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue to Frymer-Kensky et al.'s Christianity in Jewish Terms, is aimed at doing my own part to solve this long, sad problem.

Anyway, I have my own Web site and blogspot (each is linked to the other). Both are devoted exclusively to the historical Jesus....
Thanks for the plugs, and for your e-mail. Grace and peace to you.

12:04 PM

July 5, 2003

I just missed a nice exchange at Camassia's new site responding to a reader's comment:

I am very curious as to what drives people (not just you) to believe in any religion. I know some of the general answers like a reason for living, needing to believe in a higher power etc. but I would like to get a deeper, more intimate understanding of not only the search but the impetus to start looking at religions as well as a personal view of the path to an ultimate acceptance, assimilation, or rejection....
My own response to this question takes issue with its terms. I think the difference between the question and my approach explains some of the epistemological friction that regularly develops between different schools of theology, and also explains why we so often talk past one another (as I think the comments to Camassia's response generally did).

The difference concerns whether Christian faith is essentially a specific instance of something generic called "religion" or "faith" or "belief," or whether it is something coherent and self-contained that bears only "family resemblances" with other things often called religions or faiths. The question seems to assume that faith is driven psychologically. For Camassia and for many other people, that seems to be the case. The popular evangelical term "seeker," used to describe people who are on a search for – well, for whatever it was that brought them to Christianity – envisions a psychological drive towards religiosity that Christian faith might or might not meet in particular people.

The whole western category of "religion," and most accounts of religious belief in our culture, take the question in these terms. If the answer doesn't appeal to psychology (e.g., Freud), then it might appeal to sociology (Durkheim), politics (Marx), ethics (Kant), etc. as the motivating power behind a person's or a community's religion. There is a lot to respect in these schools of thought. I urge anyone who wants an introduction to check out Daniel L. Pals, Seven Theories of Religion (Oxford, 1996). It is a clear, well written, and fair primer on the schools characterized by Frazer, Freud, Durkheim, Marx, Eliade, Evans-Pritchard, and Geertz.

The trouble with this approach is that it inevitably downplays "the scandal of particularity" in the Christian tradition's historical claims (and in fact the claims of many other traditions usually lumped together as "religions") to be something whose character cannot be truly understood in terms of some greater generality. Sure, Christianity has many things in common with rivals such as Greco-Roman paganism, rabbinic Judaism, Sunni Islam, dialectical materialism, Enlightenment rationalism. Note, however, that what it has in common with each of these is different. Christianity shares Judaism's doctrine of election, but such a doctrine is antithetical to the others. Christianity shares paganism's fondness for worship, with which Enlightenment rationalism is far more suspicious. And so on. This pattern is familiar to readers of Wittgenstein, who characterized it as "family resemblance": The word "game," he said, is used for a wide variety of human practices, each of which has something in common with others; but there is little if any substantive commonality shared by every "game":

66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games". I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? – Don't say: "There must be something common, or they would not be called 'games'" – but look and see whether there is anything common to all. – For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look! – Look for example at board games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. – Are they all 'amusing'? Compare chess with [tic-tac-toe]. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of [solitaire]. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarites overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.

67. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, color of eyes, gait, temperment, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: 'games' form a family.

I think Wittgenstein is on to something important. We often use generics in ways that are less generic than they grammatically appear to be.

Consider the people who say "I love to play games." A colleague at Westmont who teaches philosophy, David Vander Laan, comes to mind as one of these. But he doesn't mean tic-tac-toe or curling; he means mental challenges whether they are for one player or more. Likewise, another colleague who coaches loves games too, but (as far as I know) that usually means soccer and basketball rather than Go. The meaning of the sentence depends on the referent; it is deeply contextual.

Now let's go back to the original e-mail: "I am very curious as to what drives people (not just you) to believe in any religion." My hunch is that "any religion" there, while generic, refers to something like "board games" or "ball games" rather than "all games." Some people explore or move between traditions that have substantial resemblances that overlap with their own desires and concerns. One of my summer-reading books (shoved aside by all the goings-on lately) is Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God. Its main theme is her transition from Orthodox Judaism to Anglican Christianity. She repeatedly points out resemblances between the two – for instance, in their liturgical sensibilities – but then points out differences that are equally profound. Another book by someone moving from Reform Judaism to Orthodox Judaism would presumably manifest different concerns. As you look at more and more possible combinations, you realize that the commonalities grow thinner and thinner, less and less important, until (I believe) they nearly, perhaps entirely, vanish.


1:27 PM


This is important because it reframes the second half of that quote: "I know some of the general answers like a reason for living, needing to believe in a higher power etc. but I would like to get a deeper, more intimate understanding of not only the search but the impetus to start looking at religions as well as a personal view of the path to an ultimate acceptance, assimilation, or rejection...." Certainly some people's answers are like the general answers of reason for living, needing to believe in a higher power, and so on. For instance, Camassia's own answers seem relatively close. But is there such a thing as "the search," "the impetus" for looking at "religions" that is common to all? I doubt it; or at least, if such a thing exists, I bet that discovering it is profoundly unhelpful to understanding the particular stories of particular people.

Consider the question: "Why do people drink lattes?" An analytic philosopher could justifiably answer, "They are thirsty." But in the real world, that response is closer to the punchline of a joke than a helpful answer. Yes, lattes are instances of the general class of drinks; and yes, thirst is a fundamental reason for consuming drinks, including the drinks you can get at Starbuck's in the morning. Likewise, being cold and being sleepy are not entirely unhelpful answers; but they do not get at what I take to be the real point of the question: Why in 2003 is everyone drinking lattes when in 1983 they were getting by with coffee and thinking nothing of it? The interesting answers go to the specificities: Lattes made from over-roasted Starbuck's beans are tasty compared to the mass-produced grinds of the early eighties. Lattes were developed to broaden the range of products of a coffee chain that didn't want its customers to become bored with cappuccino and go elsewhere. Lattes are cheap luxury items that make overextended middle-class consumers feel like they are higher on the social-class ladder. And so on.

I think that is why I have recommended that Camassia study the particularities of Jesus and his tradition, rather than the motivations of "faith" or "religiousness" in the abstract. She and I have arrived here and not elsewhere, to Jesus rather than some other figure, and it seems to me that his story is the logical place to look for our reasons and questions and objections. Other religious traditions have different ways of appreciating or deprecating the past; this one anchors everything in the reality of the story of a real human being. Historical inquiry really does matter to this faith, whether or not it matters for others or for "religion" in general. We Christians are affected both when it is done well (as I think it is by Tom Wright and many others) and when it is done poorly (as I think it is by Marcus Borg and many others). So we should be. For this is "the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:3-4). All this is about a real guy.

I am much more interested in the question, "Why do people worship Jesus Christ as Lord?" than in the question, "Why do people become religious?"

This has autobiographical resonances too (though I don't think they are determining my characterization of Christianity). What brought me to Christianity was not, so far as I can tell, a search for meaning or purpose, or the need to believe in a higher power, or a quest for acceptance. It was encountering an account of things that struck me as true and compelling. I wasn't searching or feeling needy or insignificant or rejected. I was as satisfied with my life as any reasonably well adjusted young person. However, people convinced me that Jesus was real and that his death and resurrection were true, and this news left me with a choice I had to make. Likewise, after twenty years of Christian faith, were I to lose my conviction I do not feel like I could start looking through the world's major and minor traditions for something to replace it. In time, other things would probably supplant it – perhaps a melancholy attachment to my family, or the lure of patriotism, or hobbies and preoccupations to keep me from thinking too hard about who I once was. But nothing can replace something that is truly sui generis.

Certainly there were all sorts of psychological, sociological, and biological forces that played into my own experience. Teen-aged brains work differently than either preadolescent or middle-aged brains. Being raised a basically secular white liberal Protestant created a plausibility structure into which the first news of Christianity needed basically to fit. Youthful naivete and credulity played their part. A weak but sentimental attachment to the most Christian observances of my upbringing predisposed me to take this faith more seriously than I would have had I been raised in some other tradition.

Likewise, widespread needs and desires united the Hebrew multitudes under Moses and drew throngs to Jesus. But remember that the multitudes grumbled and pined for Egypt and the crowds thinned away and disappeared when Jesus got challenging. The ones who stayed were more the sought than the seekers. Moses and Peter weren't on vision quests; Moses was looking for sheep and Peter was looking for fish. Abraham wasn't looking for anything, so far as I can tell. They didn't find God; God found them. My experience is much the same. Jesus came to me before I came to him, in ways I don't expect to find reproduced in anyone else, even fellow believers.

Ask Wynton Marsalis why he loves jazz (not just "music"), ask Dave Vander Laan why he loves chess (not just "games"), ask the average Starbuck's customer why she just ordered a latte (not just "a drink"), or ask Lauren Winner why she became Episcopal (not just "religious") – or, for that matter, ask Camassia why she has not yet given up on Christianity – and you are likely to hear something besides generic explanations. You may hear a story; you may hear an ode to the thing they love; you may meet a blank stare and a stuttering answer that amounts to, "this is just who I am." All of these are true and profound, and none of them is easily generalized.

As one who confesses that Jesus is creator, lord, and savior of all kinds of people (Gal. 3:28), this troubles me not one bit. Long live specificity.

1:27 PM

July 4, 2003

Sorry for the hiatus. Not only have we bought a house, but we have now sold our old house.

Whew. Much relief, and even more thankfulness.

But not as much thankfulness as for the good prognosis for our four-year-old daughter, who is all right after falling onto a curb and sustaining a concussion, a scraped-up face, a huge black eye – and, we found out yesterday, a double wrist fracture.

What was she doing standing on top of the minivan? "Seeing the neighborhood," she said. Natch!

We took a picture I plan to caption "This is what happens when I don't listen to Mommy and Daddy" and display in a prominent place until she moves out. Then we'll put it away until her rehearsal dinner slide show.

Writing projects, escrow details, and then moving will continue to make blogging light this summer, but I do intend to go further into The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, so keep checking back occasionally.

Thanks for your patience, everyone.

8:41 AM

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions
"Why Was Jesus Killed?" chapter 5 (by Marcus Borg)
"The Crux of Faith" chapter 6 (by N.T. Wright)

(This post is too long for the new Blogger, so I have posted it here until I figure out what to do.)

8:32 AM


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