Sunday, March 31, 2013

Goodbye, Dear Edith

Please read this thoughtful obituary by Udo Middleman for his mother-in-law, Edith Schaeffer, who died on March 30.

Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer died on March 30, 2013 in her home in Gryon, Switzerland, where she had moved 13 years ago to be surrounded by memories, her music, her son’s paintings and the detailed care organized daily by her daughter Deborah Middelmann. She was born on November 3, 1914 as the third daughter of Dr. George Hugh and Jessie Maude Seville in Wenchau, China, where her parents ran a school for girls and taught the Bible in Mandarin.

Edith Schaeffer marked her life with the expression of rich ideas, often rebellious against the staid and superficial life she saw among Christians. The oldest sister became a communist in New York of the 30ies, the second eloped. Edith Seville married Francis August Schaeffer in 1935 and in no way was she the typical pastor’s or missionary wife. She turned her active mind to work with her husband, teaching first seminary wives to think and to question, to create and make of life something of integrity, as her husband so wanted her to do. 

To put her husband through 3 years of seminary she tailored men’s suits, made ball room gowns and wedding dresses for private clients. From whole cow skins she made belts sold in New York stores. With very little money she prepared tasteful and varied meals. She painted a fresco on the ceiling of the vestibule in the little church her husband pastored in Grove City, while he attached a steeple to it with the elders’ help. They lectured together and encouraged many to use their minds to understand what they believed and how to respond to the intellectual and cultural ideas around them. Together they travelled and taught in churches and university halls from Finland to Portugal, helping people understand Christianity as the truth of the universe, not a personal faith, and pointing out the cultural and philosophical pitfalls in everyone’s way.

She lived her life as a work of art, an exhibition of true significance and a portrait of a generous, stunning and creative personality. She always sought ways to draw on life’s opportunities to show that human beings are made for the enrichment of everyone’s life, for the encouragement of people. This was a central part of the work she and her husband engaged in from the very start of their life together. She was in all things generous. When books provided royalties she used all of it to give her four children and their families annual reunions for the cousins to know each other.

When she left the work of L’Abri after her husband’s death she started the Francis A Schaeffer Foundation with Udo and Deborah Middelmann to safeguard his papers and the ideas that underline their life, to make them available for a wider audience. She found people interesting anywhere, engaged in conversation and so met the most amazing individuals. She talked, for instance, with the author Andre Aciman, standing in line for tickets to Carnegie Hall in NY and found out that he had had our village doctor, Dr. Gandur, as his pediatrician in Alexandria, Egypt. He was so grateful to be in touch through her with his old doctor.

She enjoyed people in the streets, in airplanes and over the phone, wherever she found them or when they could reach her. She stayed up nights to help someone out of their distress or need. With much imagination she served her meals with stunning decorations made from twigs and moss, field flowers and stones. Duncan from Kenya once remarked: “This is the first place where I see the beauty of the truth of the Bible consistently carried over into all areas of life.”

After the death of her husband in 1984 Edith Schaeffer added a whole new chapter to her life. She continued to write books, lectured widely and returned twice to her place of birth in China. She investigated the making the Baby Grand Piano she had received as a gift at the Steinway factory in New York and presented “Forever Music” in a concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York with the Guarneri Quartet. Through Franz Mohr, the chief piano voicer at Steinway she came to know musicians like Rostropovich, the pianists Horowitz and Rudoph Serkin, the Cellists YoYo Ma and Ya Ya Ling, and also the guitarist Christopher Parkening. She organized concerts and elaborate receptions for musicians and friends in her home in Rochester, MN. When she met B. B. King at the International Jazz Festival in Montreux he gave her his pass to the evening’s concert. Once on vacations on the island of Elba, Sonny Rollins noticed her beauty and rhythm in the audience as she danced during his concert, came off the stage and danced with her.

Today she “slipped into the nearer presence of Jesus”, her Lord, from whom she awaits the promised resurrection to continue her life on earth and to dance once again with a body restored to wholeness.

If you wish to honor Edith Schaeffer’s life you can support her intense commitment to the work of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation, Jermintin 3, CH -1882 Gryon, Switzerland

Udo W. Middelmann
The Francis A Schaeffer Foundation
313 East 92nd Apt 5E
New York, NY 10128

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Life and the Facts of History

Easter commemorates and celebrates a historical event unlike any other: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But what is the significance of the resurrection? Can we know that it really happened?

The four Gospels of the New Testament all report that Jesus predicted his death, burial, and resurrection. He was born to die. All of his wondrous teachings, healings, exorcisms, and transforming relationships with all manner of people—from fishermen to tax collectors to prostitutes to revolutionaries—would be incomplete without his crucifixion and resurrection. Shortly before his death, "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (Matthew 16:21). Peter resisted this grim fact, but Jesus rebuked him. There was no other way (vs. 22-23). For, as Jesus had taught, he "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

And give his life he did, on an unspeakably cruel Roman cross—impaled for all to see before two common criminals. We call this day Good Friday because it was good for us; but it was dreadful for Jesus. Before I became a follower of Christ, I always associated this day with the Alaskan earthquake on Good Friday, 1964, one of the largest quakes ever in North America. I was there in Anchorage. After the death of Jesus, the earth quaked on the first Good Friday as well, heaving with a significance that far exceeds any geological upsurge in world history. As Jesus' disciple Matthew recounts: "And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split" (Matthew 27:50-51). When the guards at the crucifixion experienced the earthquake and the other extraordinary phenomena, "they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" (v. 54). Yet another miracle was waiting,       waiting—as the dead Messiah was pried off his bloody cross, embalmed, and laid in a cold, dark tomb, guarded to the hilt by Roman guards.

All seemed to be lost. The one who had boldly claimed to be "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), the prophet who had announced that "God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)—this man now had died. The man who had raised the dead was dead.

On the first day of the week, two women, both named Mary, came to visit the tomb of their master. They had stayed with him as he died; now they visited his tomb in grief. Yet instead of mourning a death, they celebrated a resurrection announced by an angel, who rolled back the stone sealing the tomb and charged them to look at its empty contents. He then told them to tell Jesus' disciples of the resurrection and to go to Galilee where they would see him. As they scurried away, Jesus himself met them, greeted them, and received their surprised worship (Matthew 27:8-9). He directed them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me" (v. 10).

The rest is history, and it changed history forever. The fact that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection puts the lie to the notion that the idea of Jesus' resurrection was concocted at a later point to add drama to his life. Women were not taken to be trustworthy witnesses in courts of law at that time (although Jesus always respected them). If someone had wanted to create a pious fraud, they never would have included the two Marys in their story. Moreover, all four Gospels testify to the factual reality of the resurrection. They were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or those who consulted eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark); they were people in the know, not writers of myths and legends (see Luke 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:16).

After the resurrection, the gospel of the risen Jesus was quickly proclaimed in the very area where he was crucified. This upstart Jesus movement would have been easily refuted by someone producing the corpse of Christ, which both the Jewish establishment and the Roman government had a vested interest in doing, since this new movement threatened the religious and political status quo. But we have no historical record of any such thing having occurred. On the contrary, the Jesus movement grew and rapidly spread. Christian Jews changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, in honor of Jesus' resurrection. Pious Jews would never do such a thing on their own initiative, because it would set them against their own tradition and their countrymen. Nor would they have ceased offering the prescribed sacrifices their Scriptures required had not Jesus proven himself to be the final sacrifice for sin, the lamb of God (see John 1:29 and The Book of Hebrews). The resurrection best accounts for this change in their day of worship, their manner of worship, and the transformation at the core of their lives. Moreover, the two key rituals of the earliest church—communion and the baptism—both presuppose the historicity of the resurrection and both are very difficult to explain without it.

The Apostle Paul, a man revolutionized through an encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9), taught that "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14). Paul listed many witnesses of the risen Christ, some of whom were still living when he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and confidently affirmed that "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" (v. 20). He also proclaimed that Jesus "through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4).

Easter is the core of Christian faith and life. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no gospel message, no future hope, and no new life in Christ. But with the resurrection at its center, Christianity stands unique and alone in the world. No other religion is based on the historical resurrection of its divine founder. When Jesus announced, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 10:25), he meant it—and he demonstrated it. Let us, then, leave our dead ways and follow him today and into eternity.

·         Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of On Jesus and Jesus in an Age of Controversy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review

Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources

  • Khaldoun A. Sweis, Chad Meister, eds.
  • Mar 26, 2013
  • Series: Denver Journal Volume 16 - 2013
Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources. Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad Meister, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Hardback. 560 pages. ISBN-10: 0310325331; ISBN-13: 978-031032533.
ApologeticsAnthologyThis extensive work is needful and helpful to the mission of extending the knowledge of the one true God to this fallen world; but it is also seriously lacking in several key areas—an odd combination, it seems. No book is perfect, spare Scripture, but a book that attempts to be a major anthology of the history of Western apologetics should have been more carefully thought out. Of course, there were also tough space limits to consider, but, to my mind, these could have been handled more wisely.
Of course, every anthology, encyclopedia, handbook, and dictionary suffers from the constraints of abridgement. Only God, the Omniscient One, knows all things from every angle and from every context. We mortals, especially east of Eden, labor under the limits of partial knowing, ignorance, trivia, and outright errors. For us, everything is an abridgement of sorts. Abridgement, while necessary, is difficult, and often vexing. Thus, one should be chartable in reviewing such works, but the reviewer cannot help but consider the ideal in this daunting task of synopsis.
The church and the world needs to know that apologetics is not an esoteric discipline for eggheads, but vital to the witness of all Christians. This work makes that known through its anthologized materials, general introduction, and its introduction to the eleven individual sections. The authors include both Roman Catholic and Protestant apologists (but leave out contemporary Easter Orthodox apologists such as Father Seraphim Rose). The Apostle Paul’s apologetic in Acts 17 wisely leads off the book. But the apologetics of Jesus himself finds no place. Dallas Willard, James Sire, and J.P. Moreland all make compelling cases that Jesus was a philosopher, thinker, and apologist. John Piper also defends Jesus against the charge of anti-intellectualism in his largely exegetical book, Think (Crossway, 2011). Selections from Matthew 22 would have strengthened the book considerably. Here Jesus engages in three theological-apologetic arguments. Moreover, the Hebrew Bible is not lacking in apologetic material, even at the very beginning of Genesis, which presents a polemic against neighboring pagan cosmologies as Gerhard Hasel and others have noted.
Christian Apologetics is also helpful in that it covers all the main topics in apologetics, including two areas often sadly ignored. The first is interreligious apologetics, which is represented in a fine essay by one of its greatest contemporary proponents and philosophers, Harold Netland. Second is the last section, “Christianity and the World,” which addressed the Christian’s response to culture as part of apologetic engagement. I was particularly happy to see a section from Francis Schaeffer’s prophetic work, A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1981) included in the entries. James Beilby writes a competent (if brief) overview of apologetics systems, but neglects to treat the cumulative case method—which commands a pretty broad following today—as an apologetics system in its own right. The book should be praised for providing footnotes (which are far more convenient than endnotes), bibliographies, an extensive index, and questions for further study at the end of each section. Thus, it is strong textbook material. But now to some rather significant errors and omissions.
The introduction nicely explains the nature of apologetics, its importance, and sets up the rest of the book. But I discern an epistemic-theological error that is distressingly pandemic in apologetics books. The claim is made that apologetics (no matter how rationally powerful) can only take the unbeliever “so far.” It can remove obstacles and commend the Christian worldview as rational, but it is the Holy Spirit who must bring people to the point of conversion. This view, while common, presents a false dichotomy that is, ironically, based on anti-intellectualism and poor pneumatology.  The Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, is “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17, 15:26, 16:13). Jesus himself, filled perfectly with the Holy Spirit, came to “make the Father known” through his deeds, character, and words, including arguments (as mentioned above). Therefore, there is no reason to exclude the Holy Spirit from working in and through good apologetic arguments. The Apostle Paul, while discussing church discipline and errant theology, said this about the nature and power of arguments:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
While Paul does not explicitly mention the Holy Spirit in this passage, his statement makes no sense without the assumption that one must fight these spiritual-intellectual battles in the power of the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth,” in Jesus’ words.Therefore, one should not exclude the Holy Spirit from the work of apologetics itself.The Spirit woos souls (through argument and other means) and the Spirit brings people to conversion; it is a both/and, not an either/or. The one who reaches the point of trust in the truth of the gospel need not then take an irrational or even non-rational leap beyond the evidence or arguments.
There is also a documentation problem. It is not obvious in all cases which essays are unique to this work and which are taken from previous publications. One has to infer this. For example, John Warwick Montgomery’s fine essay on the history of apologetics is not listed in a footnote as having appeared first anywhere else. Other essays obviously are (such as the work of Aquinas and Anselm), and some essays mention in a footnote that they are taken from or adapted from other work. However, it would have been more professional (and convenient) to state which essays premier in this book. That is the scholarly convention and there was no reason to avoid it, to my knowledge.
While most sections are representatively adequate, at least two sections are lacking. The section on science and Christianity is not sufficiently represented. The simple reason is that no spokesperson for the Intelligent Design movement is included. Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe’s argument for irreducibly complex systems in the cell is a part of the section on the argument for design, but this does not emphasize the conceptual relationship of Christianity and science proper. An essay by William Dembski (one of the most well-credentialed and brilliant Christian philosophers of our day) would have been apropos, given his deep theoretical understanding of design detection, the nature of science, and the importance of high-level apologetics. Of course, he may have been approached to do just that, and had to decline. (I have had to do this myself a few times.) Nevertheless, another stellar philosopher such as Stephen Myers could have written that kind of essay. Or, the editors could have included a piece by the father and long-time leader of the Intelligent Design movement, Phillip Johnson, whose effect on contemporary apologetics is incalculable. But he appears nowhere in the volume. Second, the section on the argument from design, omits the information argument argued magisterially in Dr. Meyer’s work, The Signature in the Cell (2009) as well as in the work of Werner Gitt (In the Beginning was Information.) The information argument is perhaps the strongest and most scientifically-credentialed argument from design in the history of Christian apologetics. Yet it receives no treatment at all. This is deeply lamentable.
Another infelicitous omission is the exclusion of Pascal’s anthropological argument, which is both historically rooted in the famous Pensées and which has been revived by contemporary thinkers such as Thomas Morris, Kenneth Samples, and Robert Velarde. Of course, Pascal’s wager is included (as it always is in these kinds of collections), but it not put in any kind of apologetic context. This is sadly typical of anthologies that present it. Worse yet, it is placed in the section called, “The Existence of God.” But it is not such an argument; rather it claims that belief in God isprudentially rational, given the stakes at hand. The editor’s introduction to this section calls it a “pragmatic argument for belief,” which is not far from the mark, yet the wager does not belong in the section to which it was extradited.
Two chief epistemological arguments are silenced as well: Alvin Plantingas’ “evolutionary argument against naturalism” (summarized in Warranted Christian Belief[Oxford, 2000]) and the argument from rational inference, offered most famously by C.S. Lewis in Miracles, and which has been more recently refined and brought up to date by the yeoman work of Victor Reppert in C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea (InterVarsity Press, 2002). The anthology does include a conceptual cousin of these arguments called “the transcendental argument” (made famous by Cornelius Van Til) by way of a debate between the brilliant presuppositionalist Greg Bahnsen and the rather clueless, but militant atheist, Gordon Stein. This is instructive, but it is not apologetic engagement at the highest level. If the editors wanted to present an apologetic debate, they should have chosen a transcript from one of William Lane Craig’s many debates with atheists.
Since this book purports to “an anthology of primary sources” that covers the history of apologetics (and without a methodological agenda), it is exceedingly strange that four of the most significant apologists of the twentieth century are missing: Cornelius Van Til, Gordon H. Clark, Carl F. H. Henry, and Edward John Carnell. While all four forswore natural theology, they excelled in negative apologetics and epistemological arguments against naturalism and theological liberalism. They are historical figures worthy of at least some note in this discipline.
During the past forty years or so, Christian apologists have thoroughly engaged the pantheistic monism (or nondualism) of New Age philosophies. Therefore, some vintage material from the likes of Os Guinness (The Dust of Death [InterVarsity Press, 1973]), James Sire (The Universe Next Door [InterVarsity Press, 1976; and subsequent editions]), Gordon Lewis (Transcendental Meditation [Regal, 1975]) or David Clark and Norman Geisler (Apologetics for the New Age [Baker, 1990]) would have been fitting. While pantheism is typically propounded in America more in the popular press than in the academic setting, it is not without its more thoughtful proponents, such as the prolific, if unconvincing, Zen Buddhist system-builder, Ken Wilber.
One mistake of commission is the inclusion of John Hick’s soul-making theodicy in the section on the problem of evil. The problem is not that the essay is entirely off-base, but that the anthology seemed to be limited to orthodox apologists, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. Hick was neither. Thus, the inclusion of his work may confuse some readers. Certainly, an evangelical apologist could have been inducted here. Further, no Calvinist approach to the problem of evil was included. A contemporary evangelical philosopher such as John Feinberg or Winfried Corduan could have provided a fine essay. Less to my liking, but still in the Reformed tradition are the approaches of Gordon Clark (from Religion, Reason and Revelation [Craig Press, 1961]) and John Frame (in Apologetics for the Glory of God [P&R Publishing, 1994]).
One may be tempted to take these critical comments as the curmudgeonly snipes of an old apologist who was not asked to be an editor! Perhaps (some of them) are just; nevertheless, after thirty some years of teaching and writing on the subject, I cannot fail to call attention to them. Notwithstanding, the student of apologetics will find inChristian Apologetics many very important works of some of the best minds in the history of Christianity all hard at work “contending for the faith given once for all to the saints” (Jude 3; see also 1 Peter 3:15). Let us all be inspired by this work and continue the world-changing ministry of making the one true God known to the entire planet before it is too late (Psalm 90:12; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 5:16; James 4:13-17).
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
March 23, 2013

Book Review

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Prophet Speaks, There is Still Time

"And without a strong view of Scripture as a foundation, we will not be ready for the hard days to come. Unless the Bible is without error, not only when it speaks of salvation matters, but also when it speaks of history and the cosmos, we have no foundation for answering questions concerning the existence of the universe and its form and the uniqueness of man. Nor do we have any moral absolutes, or certainty of salvation, and the next generation of Christians will have nothing on which to stand. Our spiritual and physical children will be left with the ground cut out from under them, with no foundation upon which to build their faith or their lives."

Francis A. Schaeffer. The Great Evangelical Disaster (pp. 46-47). Kindle Edition.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tattered Cover Bookstores in Denver

Bravo, for The Tattered Cover bookstores in the Denver area. They are locally owned, well-kept, well-stocked, and enjoyable for books and cards and other bookish items. Please patronize them and ask them to carry my books.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Book Review: Duke Ellington: A Spiritual Biography

Edward Kennedy Ellington was an endlessly complex and fascinating man as well as musician, composer, and band-leader. He was one of the leading personalities of twentieth century America with regard to music, race, and America's image around the world. A very thorough treatment of this multi-dimensional man is impressive work, "Duke Ellington's America."

But Ellington's religious views and activities are often lost on the biographers. Janna Tull Steed is an ordained minister and Ellington scholar who delves into his spirituality as her book's theme. All those entranced and enthralled by Duke do well to take her work seriously. Rather than offering a theological critique of Duke's works, Rev. Steed sticks mostly to description and interpretation, and does so in good, if brief, style.

The book features enjoyable many black-and-white photographs as well as a number of short essays set in black on grey. These are not obnoxious call-outs (which litter many a book today), but concentrated thoughts on important Ellingtonian themes.

While Ellington self-identified as a Christian, he was quite superstitious and, for all his generosity and prayerfullness, did not live according to a Christian sexual code. Steed does not go into detail, but Christian jazz lovers, such as myself, will find this troubling.

Rev. Steed pays close attention to Ellington's later "sacred concerts," which he considered the most important works of his career. This is quite a statement, considering a man of his talent and reputation. I have yet to warm to these works, but with Ellington, one must give him the benefit of the doubt and consider whether the fault is in the listener or the composer. A deep man demands deep listening; and I am not done with him yet.

Thank God for Duke Ellington, a man who believed in, prayed to, and wrote music for God. Amen.