Whitman and the Meaning of Life

The poet Walt Whitman photographed in 1869, when he was about 50 years old.

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

That is one of my favorite poems. It was written by the man who I believe is easily America’s finest poet, Walt Whitman. Like any decent poem, it is a piece of philosophy that calls us to examine one of life’s great mysteries, and what mystery could be greater than the meaning of life itself? Continue reading

Do Baptists have a Right to Celebrate the Reformation?

A painting of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses by Ferdinand Pauwels, circa 1872

Tomorrow we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, dated from Martin Luther’s purported nailing of the Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It’s been a yearlong celebration, and some might mourn the passing of this Renaissance in Reformation studies. Have no fear! This is only the first of many anniversaries. We can now celebrate 500 years since the Heidelberg Disputation, the Leipzig Debate, the Diet of Worms, The Bondage of the Will, and the first catechisms. I hope I make it long enough to celebrate all the different editions of The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t think I should be celebrating at all, because I am a Baptist. Throughout the course of this year, I have often come across statements such as, “Luther would have called Baptists heretics,” “Baptists have no clue about church history or historic theology,” “Baptists ignore the principles of the Reformation,” etc. Invariably, these statements come from people who hold to one of the confessions that arose out of the 16th or 17th centuries, such as the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, or the Westminster Confession.

Why would people make such statements? Is there any truth behind them? Should Baptists be taking off their party hats and going home with their heads hung low in shame? These questions are somewhat difficult to answer due to the diversity among Baptists. Add to that the fact that by “Baptist”, the Reformed and Lutherans often mean anyone who practices credobaptism (also called “believer’s baptism”). This would force us to include a wide variety of churches that make no claim to being Baptist and may not even have a clear statement of faith.

Nevertheless, I will attempt to briefly address these questions. When people object to a connection between Baptists and the Reformation, they usually have one of the following things in mind. Continue reading

Council of Google Plus: The Homosexual & Gender Emanation

 

I joined the conversation on this week’s episode of the Council of Google Plus podcast to discuss such pedestrian issues as homosexuality, female pastors, submission in marriage, and human free will. Pay special attention for the moment when I get triggered by a comment about the Trinity. Poor Chris! This is a free flowing discussion, so you can see how well I do on the fly. Listen here.

The Girl Empress is on Sale Now

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you probably know that I wrote a historical novel. If you are not a frequent visitor, I wrote a historical novel! In fact, I am working on a trilogy of novels that tell the story of Empress Maud of England as if it were her autobiography. The first one is titled The Girl Empress and is now available as a Kindle eBook for $2.99. You can read it with a Kindle device or using a free Kindle reader app. I know that many people prefer paper books. (I am one of those people.) A print version is in the works and I hope that it will be released in time for Thanksgiving. The timing simply depends on logistical matters. I hope that readers will enjoy the book. It is my first serious outing in the realm of fiction. You can visit the website for this series of novels, known as The Chronicle of Maud, and read more.

5 Things Christians Can Learn from The Great British Bake Off

Title logo from The Great British Bake Off

WARNING: The following might just be slightly satirical.

Earlier this year, when I was feeling too awful to do anything but lay on the couch and watch Netflix, my mother convinced me to check out The Great British Bake Off, or The Great British Baking Show as it’s known in the U.S. for legal reasons. I was expecting to gain ideas for the next time church potluck. I was not expecting to be confronted with so many scriptural truths! Here are five things we can take away from watching GBBO. Continue reading

Out of Egypt: My Four Years Working for a Foreign Government

Celebrations in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” – Colossians 3:23 (NASB)

Since I began blogging in earnest, I have occasionally referred to the fact that I spent a period of time in the employ of a foreign government: the Egyptian government, to be specific. It was a fascinating epoch in many ways, and yet thoroughly uninteresting in others. Out of respect for my former employer (and here I mean specifically my first boss), I have said hardly anything about this period in public. However, enough time has elapsed that I now feel comfortable sharing some of my experiences.

In 2009, I completed my Master’s degree and began looking for a job that would pay the bills. I applied to numerous think tanks, congressional offices, and government departments. I even considered joining the CIA. What I did not expect was to see a job listing with the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C., a kind of satellite campus of the Egyptian Ministry of Information. Although I had never been to Egypt and did not speak Arabic, I applied. Shockingly, they invited me to D.C. to interview.

I suspect that there were three things that won me the job: 1) I had a good knowledge of politics and media in the United States, which was what they sorely craved. 2) I demonstrated sensitivity toward their culture and religion. 3) The person who interviewed me had attended the same graduate school as myself.

So it was that on a snowy December day, my parents helped me move all my belongings into an apartment in northern Virginia, from which I would commute to my new position as Assistant to the Director of the Egyptian Press Office. Continue reading

When and How to Criticize an Elder

A few recent controversies have caused me to reconsider when and how we should criticize church elders – that is, pastors or overseers. As someone who often writes about theological topics, I am particularly concerned with how bloggers and other Christian authors choose to respond to well-known elders in the Church. This is certainly a sensitive subject and one that calls for wisdom based on the Word of God.

I myself have made occasional criticisms of various elders on this blog, particularly over the course of the past year. These experiences have taught me some things about how we ought to engage with one another for the good of the Church and in line with God’s commands. I know that I have not always met the high standard that I set for myself, and there are some things that I would change if I was offered a redo. Nevertheless, I hope that what I have to say today will be helpful to both myself and others in the future. Continue reading

How to Have Assurance of Salvation, According to the Apostle John

An illustration of John the Apostle from the Book of Kells, circa 9th century

“How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (Job 25:4)

Questions like this have been plaguing human beings since the beginning of time. Those who believe in a righteous God naturally wonder, “Am I righteous as well? Does He approve of me? Will I escape judgment? Does He love me?” This desire for assurance has sent people on lifelong journeys, many of which fail to provide them with the clarity they lack. Some conclude that it simply isn’t possible to know if God approves of us.

While scripture tells us that, “There is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3b) it also promises hope of salvation through Jesus Christ.  Moreover, it teaches that it is possible to be assured of one’s salvation, and that those who are truly in Christ will persevere to the end. Sadly, not all Christians cling to these scriptural truths. Instead, they spend their lives chasing any number of things that they hope will grant them some measure of assurance: the sacraments, good deeds, church attendance, etc. It is not difficult to see how this changes the Christian life entirely. Those who put their trust in these things have only a false hope, and many who try find their confidence ultimately shaken.

The Apostle John wrote a letter to address this very problem. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life,” he said. (1 John 5:13) Not a hope that you have eternal life. Not an attempt to gain eternal life. No, he said that we can know that we have it. Continue reading

The Reformation was a Tragedy

“Martin Luther in the Circle of Reformers” by the German School, circa 1625-50

We haven’t hit the month of October yet, and already I have read so much about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that I would just assume be done with it. Actually, that’s a lie. I could probably read articles about the Reformation until kingdom come. I am what is popularly called a history geek. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this year has been so full of solas, beer steins, and papal anathemas that I hesitated to add to the deluge unless I had something to say that was rather different from what had already been said.

Well, here’s something you may not have heard from many Protestants this year: the Reformation was a tragedy. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of all this celebrating, I think we ought to take some time to mourn what we have lost. Great damage has been done to the cause of Christian unity, and 500 years later we have yet to recover.

“Hold on a minute!” you might be thinking. “Are you suggesting that the Protestants were wrong to break away from Rome? Do you really believe we should ignore major doctrinal errors in order to maintain a superficial unity?” No, that is not what I am saying at all. There are certainly aspects of the Reformation that we should be celebrating. The recovery of the doctrines known as the Five Solas (scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the glory of God alone) was an absolutely essential development in the history of Christianity. Many of today’s doctrinal errors occur when we fail to cling to those biblical principles. Even so, I think we must celebrate with a twinge of sadness. Continue reading

Why Did God Make Me a Woman?

“Why did God make me a woman?”

That question surely crossed the mind of my ancestor, Empress Matilda. She was one of two legitimate children of King Henry I of England. When her brother was killed in a shipwreck, she was the last one standing: the only legitimate child who could succeed her father. If you think having a woman in charge now is controversial, just imagine what it was like in the 12th century! That was the time period in which Matilda lived, and somewhat predictably, the nobles of the kingdom – all of whom had sworn to make her queen upon her father’s death – threw their support behind her male cousin and crowned him king. This led to a bitter civil war in which Matilda surely wondered why God had decided to make her a female, or at the very least why He had killed off her brother.

For the past three years, I have been writing a series of novels based on Matilda’s life. The first one is about to be released as an eBook by Amazon. (Shameless plug…) It was never my intention that these books should join the feminist literary canon or be an exercise in man bashing. You will find within those pages examples of good and bad men, along with good and bad women. Nevertheless, Matilda’s sex is an unavoidable part of the plot. It affected nearly every aspect of her life. She must have been painfully aware of the fact that she was assigned the lot of the weaker sex.

All of this has caused me to reflect upon my own femaleness. Much like my ancestor, I live in a world in which I am constantly reminded of my place in both subtle and unsubtle ways. I am not referring to the way I am treated by society as a whole, for it is increasingly embracing the idea that gender doesn’t exist or can be assigned artificially, without regard for biological realities. I am talking about the Christian world: specifically, the evangelical Christian world. Continue reading