Good morning and God's blessings be with you today and always.
I found this in the Raleigh News & Observer:
Homilies with grit
A new book features sermons, some provocative, given at Duke Chapel
Staff Photo by Harry Lynch
Duke Chapel's soaring sanctuary makes a dramatic setting for sermons. A new compilation of messages delivered in the chapel shows that well-known preachers have used the pulpit to talk about controversial issues of the day.
By MATT EHLERS, Staff Writer
It's a beautiful building, no question, but Duke Chapel is more than an architectural wonder, more than a tourist attraction.
It's a functioning place of worship, a church that during its seven decades of existence has welcomed students and neighbors to hear some of America's most famous and talented preachers, including the Rev. Billy Graham.
Sounds promising, though rather playing to an old favorite on the uptake. As usual in reading current 'journalism', however, one has to flag the words steering the reader's thought process: 'tourist attraction', 'welcomed students and neighbors'. Of course, the above paragraph is not actually the lead-in to a tour of the building, but rather setting what the author imagines is an appropriate context for the review of a book of sermons that had been delivered from the pulpit of the Chapel. I am of course always interested in the architectural quality of the church building. This is not a really driving concern, however. I am more interested in the congregation. It is therefore somewhat pleasing to learn a bit about the people who attend services in DC (apparently, those who just wander in, mostly). However, what is resolutely excluded is exactly what doctrinal obedience is practiced at DC, if any. And the review isn't a lot of help here.
We learn that the congregation is 'diverse' and that might well be the most important adjective which can be applied:
Preaching at Duke Chapel is different from preaching to a traditional congregation. On Sunday, the pews could be occupied by any combination of tourists, undergraduate students and the core congregants who call the chapel their church home. That presents a special set of challenges.
"I think anytime you speak to a highly diverse audience, you have to try to gauge what the right word is for the right time," Lischer said.
That is the key scare word in the article. DIVERSITY rears its head, like St. George's dragon (maybe more like Farmer Ham's when history gets the boot in on all this current brouhaha). And it turns out that the editor, William Willimon, now a bishop in the United Methodist Church (a notably liberal mainline Protestant denomination), did not have diversity as one of his stated key goals in assembling the homilies, it just happened to occur in one of the sermons he collected. His rules were : that the sermons be interesting; that they be delivered by preachers who were noteworthy during their time; and that their words still resonate today.
So, Ehlers has biased the contents (I remain shocked that there is secular bias in this secularized and naked public square. Shocked, I tell you)
Ignoring Ehlers for a moment, let's first deal with Bp Willimon: his rules sound like very useful guidelines, if we were reviewing the lectures of professors in a liberal arts college on the subjects of, say, Shakespearean influence on 19th century dramatic technique. The distressing part is how value-free they are: it would be noteworthy to preach legal abortion from a devout Christian pulpit, but it would not be edifying or doctrinally faithful. The Reverend Coughlin was noteworthy in his time. So was Jimmy Falwell. Anybody want to also consider them responsible preachers of orthodox Christian doctrine or, failing that, to be at least meaningful expounders of falsehood in ways that remain instructive? Hmmm, I thought not. Me, either. And finally, the words may well resonate, but then Hitler's promise of a Thousand-Year Reich also resonates (we can defend against what we do not forget). So does Stalin's sneer about the number of Pius's divisions (Old Joe's estimate turned out to be inadequate. Oops). Still, we can be a little charitable: Willimon may have mentioned faithfulness and Christian orthodoxy and the 'journalist' here may have eliminated the reference. One would think that if Bp Willimon had emphasized it, Ehlers would have been constrained to include it. It was my impression that the role of Bishop was to shepherd the faithful and if there is controversy to study, that he would give guidance and lead the faithful to the dependable sources. This can mean publishing the actual contents of heresy and iconoclasm, simply to be fair to those raising the heterodox opinions and to honestly grapple with them. And Willimon may have done so, in his editorial commentary (if there is any). The article in hand is too short to have included such details. Perhaps the News & Observer, being just a newspaper of general interest, has no room for such discussion, even in a heavily Christian, heavily conservative state like North Carolina.
But back to that 'diversity' quote. It was taken from the only sermon to be quoted from the book, by Professor Richard Lischer, of Duke Divinity. It just gets tiresome to have this continually flung into one's face. It seems like an alchemical attempt at a universal philosophic/religious solvent, the kind of thing that the speakers imagine will answer the liberal's most pressing question, "Why can't we all just get along?" (you must remember to say this with a whine, for full effect, as Glenn Frey did last night in the Eagles' concert) It's become a kind of mantra (tip to Alia Darrow
for that word), the chant invoked against demons beyond the pleader's understanding. In the present case, the demon involved is one of the left's conjuration, a truly Screwtapean twister who has subtly turned the minds to fear and loathe that which is actually the defense against fear and the rejecter of loathsomeness. It's that kind of irony that makes it difficult to even address this kind of article. You read and shake your head: "Noted. Next?"
But that's defeatist. You can't turn your head from nihilism and cultural illiteracy. Ehlers might not know a religious hawk from a philosophic handsaw, but he has the secular humanist style book down to an art. He gets away with this puff piece, gets a nice picture in the paper and a paycheck and the faithful are once again put off and patronized. We're supposed to be awed by the sweeping physical grandeur of the Chapel. We're intended to be reassured that it's courageous socially . And finally we're to know that Duke Chapel has long been progressive (though we're not about to use that word in this context, suffice to say [a]t Duke Chapel, it seems they've been choosing the right ones for generations
We do not now have the precise definition of 'right'. We are, as usual, left to guess, and as we always supply our own definition, the author gets away without actually stating what his definition might be.
Okay, on one level, it's all a tease anyway, just intended to get us to visit Duke Chapel on the one hand and to buy the book on the other. Ehlers is not in fact a competent book reviewer (he's not really that good a journalist, from the evidence on hand here), so perhaps I'm being too harsh and making too much of something rather less substantial than Dan Brown's fevered imagination. But you draw the line and you keep the line drawn. This kind of laziness and syncretism simply must be pointed out and rebuked, every last time it pops up.
So you're rebuked, Matt Ehlers. Go back to a real school this time and get some real knowledge.