Timothy Keller is the founder and pastor of something as rare as a Manhattan Presbyterian church that draws more than five thousand people to its Sunday services. He specializes in ministering to skeptics like myself and has apparently been hugely successful in this endeavor. That piqued my curiosity, so I bought his new book, Making Sense of God, whose subtitle invited me to sit down and listen to his pitch.
I have long been fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s diatribe against fate, Hap.
If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"
Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.
Charles Scriven needs no introduction to most readers of Spectrum. For more than 50 years, he has been thinking and writing about the interaction of life and religion. He has been a pastor, an editor, a professor, and college president. He belongs to that interesting group of people whose pursuit of truth is not driven by concerns of career and ambition.
Reinder Bruinsma may be retired as far as career goes, but at 74, this former pastor, teacher, and high-ranking administrator has viewed retirement as freedom to double down on what he loves most. He preaches, writes books, translates scholarly tomes, and from time to time, joins his local hiking club for a 10-mile hike along the canals.
As a student at Andrews University at the end of the 1970s, I heard the names Vick, Weiss, and Hilgert mentioned, almost in a whisper, but they had been so effectively airbrushed out of the institutional history that I never learned why they were no longer there. Then Spectrum went online with its blog, and there was Dr. Herold Weiss, first in Spanish, then in English.
Stories depend for their effect on suspension of disbelief. A story is a conspiracy between storyteller and the audience. The best way of ruining a good story is to insist that it be read as history. You would not do that to the Wizard of Oz or the story of Cinderella, but if you are a biblical literalist, chances are you would do so to the stories of the Bible.
The village atheist was never a threat to people of faith. He—and it was always a he—never amounted to being more than a gadfly. That was the case with Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century master of the craft, and Richard Dawkins of the 21st century has not been any more successful. People are not ideologically threatened by their enemies, be they religious or secular.
Europeans love their churches; they just don't use them. I grew up in a community in Norway that loved its local church, the only church in the county, Lutheran or otherwise. The locals still take good care of it, and if it burned down, the way the only church in the neighbor county did a few years ago, they too would move heaven and earth to rebuild it at public expense. And for Christmas and New Year, they lovingly post pictures of the church, draped in light snow and flood-lit, in order to wish everybody a blessed Christmas and a good New Year.