Roger Williams Banished


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On this day in history–October 9, 1635, Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he questioned the colony’s politicized religion.

In 1644, Williams went on to write The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, which laid out his critique of civil states enforcing religious doctrine or practice and his constructive case for religious freedom.

In the preface to that book, Williams summarized his basic arguments:

First. That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.

Secondly. Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly. Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English churches, and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly. The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly. All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly. It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries: and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God.

Seventhly. The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any kingdom or civil state in the world to follow.

Eighthly. God requireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Ninthly. In holding an enforced uniformity of religion in a civil state, we must necessarily disclaim our desires and hopes of the Jews’ conversion to Christ.

Tenthly. An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.

Eleventhly. The permission of other consciences and worships than a state professeth, only can, according to God, procure a firm and lasting peace; good assurance being taken, according to the wisdom of the civil state, for uniformity of civil obedience from all sorts.

Twelfthly. Lastly, true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.

Review of ‘Families and Faith’ by Vern L. Bengtson, Norella M. Putney, and Susan C. Harris


familiesandfaith Vern L. Bengtson, Norella M. Putney, and Susan C. Harris, Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). Hardback / Kindle

For four generations now, the men in my family have been named George Wood, though each has a different middle name. My grandfather (G1), father (G2), and I (G3) also are ordained ministers in the Assemblies of God. Someday, I would love to see my son (G4) give his son (G5?) our common first name. I would even love to see him (them?) become a minister. (My wife is not so sure.) But my greatest hope is that my son—and his children after him—will practice the Christian faith in which his mother and I are raising him.

The transmission of faith and practice across generations is an important part of biblical religion. Deuteronomy 6:1–9, for example, outlines God’s commandments and emphasizes that parents are teach these to their children daily, through both word and deed.  Similarly, Ephesians 6:4 addresses fathers particularly when it says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Not surprisingly, religious parents are happy when their children practice the faith and unhappy—sometimes deeply distressed—when they don’t.

The past five decades have witnessed tremendous changes in American society generally and the American family structures particularly. For example, through increased immigration and enlarged access to information, America is more diverse—racially, ethnically, religiously, ideologically—than it has ever been. And while some changes in values and mores have been for the better (progress in civil rights, the increased presence of women in the work force), other changes have led to entrenched social pathologies (out-of-wedlock childbirth, widespread divorce, endemic poverty).

Surveying these changes in American society and the American family, you might assume that the process of transmitting your faith to your children has become more difficult. As Vern L. Bengtson and his colleagues demonstrate in their new study, Families and Faith, that is actually not the case. Based on quantitative data from the Longitudinal Study of Generations (1970–2005) and on qualitative data from interviews (2005–2008) with 156 members of 25 LSOG families, Bengtson, Putney, and Harris conclude: “Religious families are surprisingly successful at transmission.” Indeed, despite incredible stressors on the American family, they argue that, contrary to stereotype, “Parental influence has not declined since the 1970s.”

Success at transmitting religion is unequally distributed, however. According to the authors of Families and Faith, “High-boundary religious groups have high rates of transmission.” Specifically, Evangelicals, Jews, and Mormons do a better job at handing on their faith than do Mainline Protestants, who have declined numerically since 1970. Those groups also do a better job than Catholics, whose declines among native-born Americans have been masked by large-scale immigration from predominantly Catholic countries, especially in Latin America.

The question is, why? The data point to three factors: (1) “strong and intentional bonds between family and church or synagogue, in which religious activities are built around family activities with high family involvement in religious education”; (2) “emphasis on parents’ role modeling, evidenced in their investment in the tradition and their articulation of its beliefs; and (3) “family solidarity, characterized by warm emotional relationships, frequent family interaction, help, and assistance.”

As a father, I would like to note especially the crucial role dads play in religious transmission. The authors write: “Particularly important, according to our data, is the role of a fathers’ warmth. Parental piety—religious role modeling, setting a good example—will not compensate for a distant dad.” Let me shorten, emphasize, and repeat that statement: Parental piety will not compensate for a distant dad. In other words, if I want G4 to be a Christian like G1, G2, and G3 have been, then I must be involved in his life.

(I should note, of course, that these factors express statistical probabilities rather than absolute certainties. Even in the most ideal situations, some children will reject the faith. Nonetheless, though they do not offer guarantees of successful transmission, these factors point to useful guidelines.)

One of the most surprising conclusions in Families and Faith is the intergenerational transmission of unbelief. According to the Pew Research Center, the nones have grown from 7 percent in 1972 to nearly 20 percent in 2012. The assumption has been that this growth represents people leaving the religion in which they have been reared. Bengtson, Putney, and Harris demonstrate, however, that a considerable number of the nones were raised in religiously unaffiliated families, whether those families identified as atheist, agnostic, or spiritual but not religious. They, too, have been successful in transmitting their irreligion.

Obviously, sociology cannot tell us which religious faith is true or why it ought to be handed on. That is the job of theologians and clergy. Sociology can tell us, however, what families who successfully transmit their faith do well. And that is in fact what Families and Faith tells us.

I highly recommend this book to conscientious parents, Christian clergy, or anyone else interested in handing on the faith once delivered to the saints. It can be done. Here are some data-driven suggestions how.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Council of Chalcedon


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On this day in history–October 8, 451–the Council of Chalcedon convened. The council met to resolve theological disputes about how Jesus Christ’s divinity related to his humanity. After several weeks of deliberation, it concluded that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures. 

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

EWTN, the Catholic media group, has a nice web page with primary resources. It includes the letter of Pope Leo (Rome) to Archbishop Flavian (Constantinople), the Chalcedonian definition (quoted above), and the canons (legal opinions) of the council.

The Battle of Lepanto


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On this day in history–October 7, 1571–the Holy League defeated the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto.

Michael Novak calls Lepanto the first of “Two Battles that Saved the West.”

G. K. Chesterton wrote a poem about the battle in 1915, which includes an allusion to Don Quixote at the end. Here it is:

—–

Lepanto

White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain–hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,–
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces–four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still–hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,–
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed–
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign–
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade….
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

Review of ‘Flourishing Faith’ by Chad Brand


baptistprimer_1 Chad Brand, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2012). Paperback/ Kindle

Flourishing Faith by Chad Brand is a primer on political economy from a Baptist perspective. It was commissioned by the Acton Institute and was the first of four similar volumes to appear, the others being written from Pentecostal, Wesleyan, and Reformed perspectives. I have reviewed the Pentecostal primer and will review the Wesleyan one soon. The Reformed primer has not been published yet.

Brand’s book has several strengths. First, it is clearly and succinctly written, as should be expected in such an introductory work. Second, it does an admirable job of summarizing biblical teaching and historical developments as they relate to work, wealth,and the political economy. Third, it recognizes that a Baptist political economy teaches many things that are commonly held by Christians, especially Protestant Christians. Fourth, it highlights those areas in which Baptists—better, baptistic Christians—have a unique perspective on political economy.

Historically, baptistic strands of Christianity trace their roots to 16th-century Radical Reformers (e.g., the Anabaptists) or to 17th-century English separatists (e.g., Baptists). Both strands separated the institutions of church and state to a degree unprecedented before Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in A.D. 312. Post-Constantinian Christianity generally and the Magisterial Reformation specifically saw church rites (i.e., infant baptism, confirmation, communion) as the gateway to civic participation. They viewed the church as the state’s moral tutor and the state as the church’s legal protector (and occasional enforcer). Because everyone was a Christian, if only nominally, the church understood itself to be composed of both sinners (the visible church) and saints (the invisible church). By contrast, baptistic Christianity required professed faith as the condition of baptism, viewed the church as a community of visible saints, and took a dim view of state-supported faith as a violation of the individual’s religious freedom.

In the American experiment, Baptists often took an outsized role in pushing for independence and religious freedom. Although well-known 20th-century American Baptists—Walter Rauschenbusch and Harry Emerson Fosdick among Social Gospellers, Ron Sider and Craig Blomberg among evangelicals—have been critical of capitalism, Brand draws a logical connection between religious freedom, political freedom, and free markets that is plausible, to my mind anyway.

But that connection raises my two reservations about the book. First, the Anabaptists—as opposed to the Baptists—typically have not concluded that their theological and ecclesiological commitments align with Brand’s conservative, GOP-friendly political economy. Not even Brand’s fellow Baptists have drawn these conclusions (see the four Baptists mentioned above). This suggests that Brand’s brand of Baptist political economy is a plausible, though not necessary, outcome of baptistic theological and ecclesiological commitments.

Second, while I’m sympathetic to Brand’s political economy, I’m concerned that some readers will dismiss his interpretation of the baptistic tradition because of several pointed critiques of the Obama administration. While I think that Brand’s critiques score several palpable hits, I’m unconvinced that he needed to make them in an introductory text such as this. Primers should draw a picture in broad strokes rather than in fine lines, sticking to the general rather than the particular, and the long-term rather than the right-now. As it is, Brand’s critiques seem unnecessarily partisan. One year after the book’s publication, they’re already losing their freshness, quickly approaching their sell-by date, if they have not already passed it.

In sum, Flourishing Well outlines a plausible Baptist political economy composed of a visible church, a limited state, and a free market; but it should’ve avoided critiquing the Obama administration.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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