Monday, May 28, 2012

Decoration Day

Decoration Day is a late spring or summer tradition that involves cleaning a community cemetery, decorating it with flowers, holding a religious service in the cemetery, and having dinner on the grounds. These commemorations seem to predate the post-Civil War celebrations that ultimately gave us our national Memorial Day.
Little has been written about this tradition, but it is still observed widely throughout the Upland South, from North Carolina to the Ozarks. Written by internationally recognized folklorist Alan Jabbour and illustrated with more than a hundred photographs taken by Karen Singer Jabbour, Decoration Day in the Mountains is an in-depth exploration of this little-known cultural tradition. The Jabbours illuminate the meanings behind the rituals and reveal how the tradition fostered a grassroots movement to hold the federal government to its promises about cemeteries left behind when families were removed to make way for Fontana Dam and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Richly illustrated and vividly written, Decoration Day in the Mountains presents a compelling account of a widespread and long-standing Southern cultural practice.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Like a lot of boys growing up in the South I was once enamored with stock car racing.  My parents regularly attended the NASCAR events in Charlotte, NC and Bristol, TN, and always brought me back souvenir programs.  I would spend hours looking at the action photos and reading the drivers' biographies.  When I was six years old my dad took me to a race at the old Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.  Remarkably, though, I only attended one other race, the National 500 in Charlotte, when I was a teen.  Most of the time we listened to the races on the radio; and I had a part-time job at dad's radio station, giving the station ID and running spots during the cued breaks in the live feed from the Motor Racing Network.

One funny story: when I was around four or five we were traveling on winding US Highway 441 over the Great Smokies toward my grandparents' home in Sevierville, TN (at that time the section of I-40 that follows the Pigeon River was not yet complete).  Just over the state line there had been an accident which brought all traffic flow to a stop.  My dad got out of our car to stretch and take a walk to view the accident scene.  On his way he discovered that driver James Hilton was towing his race car to an event.  A few minutes later he brought the driver to my car window.  "Look son, this is James Hilton."  He reached in to shake my hand.  "Yes," I said, "I saw you race at Weaverville."   "Who is your favorite driver?" he had to ask.  "I pull for number 21."

At the time number 21 was driven by Cale Yarborough.  But that made little difference to me.  I rooted for the car, the white car with a red top and 21 emblazoned in gold numerals on its doors -- the Wood Brothers car from Stuart (as in J.E.B. Stuart), Virginia.  I can't account for it; I just fell in love with that car, and I "pulled" for it no matter who was driving it.

By high school, though, between homework and part-time work and girls my interest in NASCAR -- as with the NFL -- began to wane substantially.  Years later, as a commuter between my home and Charlotte (the speedway being between those two points), I actually began to detest NASCAR.  "Race week" (in October and May) meant nightmarish traffic to and from work.  The sport had become a big money, corporate enterprise.  And it evokes some of the most over-the-top state-worship I've seen associated with sports.  Apache helicopters and sundry fighter jets rumble over our house en route to a flyover of the speedway during the pre-race mass hysteria (Red Square had nothing on the Charlotte Motor Speedway).

So I've ignored racing and simply put up with with the inconvenience it creates semi-annually for most of my adult life.  Except that now, for some odd reason, as inexplicable as my attachment to the 21 car as a kid, I find myself ready to "pull" for the driver of that car at this week's 600 mile race in Charlotte.  I still like the car; it gives me some of those fuzzy memories of childhood.  But I also like the driver, a young man named Trevor Bayne from my hometown of Knoxville, TN.  Last year Bayne was the youngest driver to ever win the Daytona 500, taking the checkered flag in the legendary Wood Brothers car at the age of 20 years and one day.  He is an outspoken Christian.  And he is battling Lyme disease, which has partly caused him to miss a number of races.  But he said something in an interview that stuck out to me: "Whether I win or wreck, I am the same person."  I'm fairly certain he said that in the context of his identity as a believer.  It reminded me of what Barry Cooper points out in Discipleship Explored: that those who believe and have been justified in Christ are counted no less righteous on a bad day, and no more so on a good one.

That's a good point of focus for running a good race.

So, for this Sunday: "boogity, boogity..."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Law and the Christian

[W]hat role does the Mosaic Law play in the life of the believer? Modern evangelical theology owes a great deal to the stream of teaching descending from Calvin through the Puritans. In this teaching, a fundamental distinction is made between the Mosaic law as a "covenant of works" and the Mosaic law as a "rule of life." The former, the demand that we follow the law in order to receive God's approval, is abolished in Christ. Advocates of this tradition insist that this is what Paul is referring to in Romans 7:4. But it is doubtful that we can make this distinction. Any power that the law has to condemn is tied to its binding power. If one is "under the law," then one is separated from grace and is a helpless victim (See Rom. 6:14). And being "under the law," as 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 makes clear, is to be under its commanding power. I think it preferable, then, to interpret Romans 7:4 (and 6:14, 15) as teaching that the believer is set free from the immediate binding authority of the Mosaic law. No part of that law remains as an independent source of moral direction, not even the Ten Commandments. The believer has been transferred from the realm over which the law rules into the realm over which Christ rules. We therefore are subject directly to the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), not to the law of Moses. To put it in terms of historical theology, I side with Luther in rejecting the typical Reformed teaching about the "third use of the law" -- the use of the law as a rule of life for the believer.
Two points are especially important here. First, whatever most Christians would identify as eternal "moral" law in the law of Moses clearly is taken up by Christ and the apostles and made part of the "law of Christ," under which we live. Of the Ten Commandments, only the Sabbath command is not repeated virtually verbatim in the New Testament. (This is why the nature and meaning of the Sabbath has been such a matter of controversy). Second, Paul is not saying (as some have wrongly interpreted him to say) that Christians are no longer bound by any specific commandments at all. He says precisely the reverse (see 1 Cor. 7:19b). The point of Romans 7:4, and of similar texts, is that we are not bound to the law of Moses. But we are bound to a law -- the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 7:19-21).
~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bumper Sticker Theology

Today on the side bar to the right, Evangelical Textual Criticism has posted a video link to an interview with New Testament scholar Dan Wallace on new manuscript discoveries.  Below, for your entertainment and edification, is a recent chapel program the always funny and fascinating Wallace gave at Dallas Seminary on the reliability of the church's vast treasure of manuscripts.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stage to Stage

Contemporary scholars generally agree that Paul's thinking and writing about Jesus and Christian experience are dominated by a certain way of conceiving God's work in history drawn from his Jewish background. Jews in Paul's day, especially those influenced by the apocalyptic movement, tended to divide the history of God's work in the world into two distinct eras: the "present age," dominated by sin and Gentile oppression of Jews, and "the age to come," when sin would be taken away and the Messiah would reign over triumphant Israel. New Testament writers, as well as Jesus himself, adopted this scheme but modified it in light of the two separate comings of the Messiah. Jesus' first coming inaugurates the new age of redemption without eradicating the present, evil age. At his second coming the present age will cease to be while the new age, in enhanced form, will remain. We use the term salvation history to denote this general scheme, according to which God's salvation is accomplished in the world through a historical process divided into stages.

~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Trust and Obey

Paul seems deliberately to have chosen a phrase ["obedience of faith," Rom. 1:5] that preserves a careful balance between his desire to awaken faith in non-Christians and to stimulate obedience in believers. His mission is to call Gentiles to a faith that carries with it the determination to obey the Lord, and to an obedience stimulated by fresh experiences of faith. The NIV "obedience that comes from faith" may convey this idea, but it is capable of being interpreted as a kind of two-stage process: one first believes and then later obeys. For Paul, however, genuine Christian faith always carries with it, right from the beginning, the call for obedience. Paul calls on people to believe in the Lord Jesus, and calling Jesus "Lord" means that one is committed to doing what Jesus commands. Faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin. One cannot have true faith without obedience, and one cannot truly obey without believing.
~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

I would argue that the word 'slave' is never mentioned in the Old Testament, and that the term is anachronistic because you cannot have unfree until you have defined freedom. There was no concept of a 'free person' before 5th century Greece. The Israelites in the OT are not 'liberated' from Egypt according to the book of Exodus but 'brought out' to 'serve' God. They go from one service to another. They go from harsh service (an idea which is present in the OT) to good service, but everyone in the OT was an 'eved (servant) of someone else. Even the king was an 'eved. It was not possible to avoid this status. One can plot the creeping presence of 'eved = slave in Bible translations in European languages and in dictionaries over the last 100 years, but this does not stem from careful semantic analysis.

~ Peter J. Williams, Tyndale House, University of Cambridge

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Messiah Complex

[Leo] Strauss and his followers have always been more concerned with practical questions about contemporary politics than with intellectual history or complex philosophical questions. Their primary purpose, which allies the neoconservatives with them, is to develop an abstract legend of American politics that supports a moderate welfare state domestically and a quasi-messianic internationalism in foreign policy.

~ Kenneth McIntyre on "The Right's False Prophet"

Monday, May 7, 2012


American Evangelicals have historically, culturally, and epistemologically been at cross-purposes with the traditional Conservative wariness of ideology, revolution, nationalization, and economic centralization.

~ Peter Daniel Haworth

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Late, Great Mel Bradford on the Constitution

Over at The Imaginative Conservative blog is a sweeping essay by Marshall DeRosa on the constitutional thought of M.E. Bradford. DeRosa employs several key matters of debate to show that Bradford believed the Constitution to be based on nomocratic rather than teleocratic grounds.
The nomocratic view "is that the Constitution was designed to bring government under the rule of law, as opposed to achieving any specific purposes.... [T]he Constitution is primarily a structural and procedural document, specifying who is to exercise what powers and how. It is a body of law, designed to govern, not the people, but government itself; and it is written in language intelligible to all, that all might know whether it is being obeyed. The alternative, teleocratic view, is one that has come into fashion the last few decades and has all but destroyed the original Constitution. This is the notion that the design of the Constitution was to achieve a certain kind of society, one based upon abstract principles of natural rights or justice or equality or democracy or all of the above. It holds that the specific provisions of the document are of secondary importance or none at all; what counts are the ‘principles’ it supposedly embodies, usually principles based upon the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, neither of which has any standing in law"
Here is an excerpt on the matter of religion:
Few areas are as susceptible to and instructive about national teleocratic politics than the national judicial policy towards religion. Religion, as a system of beliefs and behavior, could be either instrumental or problematical in achieving national teleocratic policy goals. If placed within the domain of national public policy prerogatives religion could promote national standards, or, if part of the States' police power prerogatives to promote the morals of the respective state populations, religion could clash with national policy objectives. Suppose that the dominant religious beliefs of a State resulted in public policy that recognized only monogamous heterosexual marriages, whereas the U.S. Supreme Court supported teleocratic interpretations of privacy, due process and equal protection of the law that sanction all consensual conjugal unions, whether they be of the same gender, same family; whatever. In the final analysis, the only way around the State's policy preference for a Christian model of marriage would be to displace the role of religion at the state level with national standards. This is exactly what a teleocratic U.S. Constitution facilitates, substituting state public policies premised upon the religious beliefs of state citizens with national standards based upon the values of dominant elites.
Bradford presents solid evidence to support his position that a teleocratic Constitution that trumps the role of religion in formulating state public policy is, in most instances, the illegitimate product of judicial concoctions and inventions. From the vantage point of original intent, the biographical evidence reveals that approximately ninety-five percent of the Framers were "members in good standing of the various Christian communions found in early America" (Intentions, 88-89). About five percent were deists and secularists.[13] Which influence dominated the, drafting and ratification processes, the Christian, deists or secularists? According to Bradford, "The assumption that this majority was likely to agree to totally secular institutional arrangements in the very structure of American politics contradicts almost everything we know about human nature, as well as the most self-evident components of Christian teaching concerning the relation of the magistrate to the ultimate source of his authority in God" (Intentions, 89). Nevertheless, secularization of public policy is precisely what the Supreme Court requires through its "concocted" Lemon Test, which requires that every state statute must, first, "have a secular purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion...; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion...."[14]
It is impossible to appreciate the Supreme Court's deviation from the original constitutional arrangement regarding religion without factoring in American federalism. Post-WWII Supreme Court decisions to the contrary notwithstanding, the Framers, did not agree to secularize national and state institutions. As a matter of historical fact, Christianity pervaded the politics of the period, especially at the state level. The Framers were not irrational men; they would neither attempt the ratification of a national constitution that negated state policies towards religion, policies that varied from state to state and regionally, nor attempt to nationalize religious policies that would result in conflict between the national and state 'governments.[15]' The historical evidence "is more than enough to demonstrate that, a neutrality tending to become a hostility toward religion-an instrument for secularizing the public life-was not the purpose of any participant in the process of lawgiving" (Intentions, 93). The Supreme Court's First Amendment "wall of separation" is ahistorical and ideologically inspired (Intentions, 97-100).[16] For the objective analyst the intent of the Framers' policy towards church and state is, Bradford maintained, readily discernible; those who claim otherwise are "both intellectually dishonest and absurd (Intentions, 98).
Indeed, the original intent behind the First Amendment is readily discernible. Article Six ("no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States") and the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) are restrictions on the national government, not the States. "The truth about the limits marked off by the Establishment Clause and the exclusion of religious tests for officeholders in Article 6 is that they raise no wall of separation, only a check upon sectarian passions" (Barbarians, 77). As Bradford points out, the national community did not confuse "freedom of religion with freedom from religion" (Intentions,100). The Framers, "would not wish to live in a society that in no way identifies itself as a Christian community, which in its impious political character would invite the wrath of God. Neither did they wish to put their descendants in a situation where they cannot profess their Christianity in and through their work" (Intentions, 101). Thus, military chaplains; U.S authorized missions to "civilize the Indians," "In God We Trust" inscribed on currency, tax exempt status for churches, Sunday closing laws, Government sponsored days of prayer and thanksgiving, prayers in public schools, and state subsidies for religion are all consistent with constitutionally sanctioned quasi-establishment, through which the States were free to utilize public policy to nurture religious values, and religious values to formulate public policy, while the national government acquiesced and to some extent supported those policies.
Analysis of First Amendment jurisprudence regarding church and state not only reveals that post-WWII constitutional law has deviated from original intent, but also the method and extent to which the nomocratic elements of the Constitution that were designed to secure popular control have been displaced to make room for teleocratic politics. Having liberated themselves from the restraints of original intent, the Court then proceeded ultra vires to impose their teleocratic/ideological preferences on the States. In other words, the nomocratic Constitution established rules of engagement for political combat between factions, religious factions included; by ignoring original intent the Supreme Court declared victory for: proponents of secularization by judicial decree.[17] Of course the activist Court will utilize the Constitution in order to claim legitimacy, with some justices (due to legal training and intellectual incompetency) unaware that the precedent they rely on is incompatible with the original Constitution. Nevertheless, the end result is the same. The role of the States in public policy-making has been significantly diminished. Because it clears the constitutional decks for the Supreme Court to substitute its teleocratic natural rights vision of justice for the more traditional biblical view, we can expect ongoing policy innovations promoting the former at the expense of the latter. But, of course, this is only one part of the larger edifice of nation-building that moves us closer and closer to a unitary system of government. Other important parts of the structure include nationalistic interpretations of Congressional commerce powers and more variations of Fourteenth Amendment selective incorporation theories.
Most of this nation-building at the expense of the States would have been neither politically nor constitutionally feasible had it not been for the actions and rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln, the primary effect of which has been to merge the Constitution with a teleocratic interpretation of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln is at center stage of these developments.
Read it all here.