The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Promising Book?

One thing I have often pondered is the aesthetic dimension of urban redevelopment.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Nice piece on poet John Leax's use of wacky tabloid headlines to inspire poems.

Reminds me of Dutch-Canadian Henk Krijger's use of found junk to form his playful paintings.

It just hit me...

For gnostic ammillenialists theology is nothing more than a ghost story.

Monday, August 29, 2005
Who's to Blame?
Jeffrey Ventrella offers his take on the question of the origin of sinful cultural institutions:

One sign of a culture in decline is the content of its entertainment. But, the real culprit is not the consumers, but the producers. The Consumers' hearts are an issue to be sure: Producers produce what the consumers demand. What is craved and desired by the consumers? How are they satisfied? Upon what do they feed and derive sustenance? But, the producers stand to profit from the evil demands of the consumers and here's the key cultural point.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Read it and Weap - III
Meridith Kline, "By My Spirit", part 2:

Envisaged as the consummation of the covenant order was a human temple transfigured into a radiant replica of the archetypal Glory-temple. Glorification, that final step in the construction of the temple, would be an act of the Creator. But meanwhile the cultural mandate of the covenant called on man to participate in this temple building by multiplying his kind, so producing the global community of mankind, God's people-temple. Embodied as it was in a royal mandate to subdue and occupy the earthly domain, this assignment to build the people-temple was also a royal commission. The covenantal service of temple building was a function of kingship. At the same time, since the temple is a house of prayer and worship, it is evident that performing the cultural task of the king served the purposes of the priest's cultic functioning. The telos of the kingdom is that God may be all in all.

Culture=people only?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Big Book
A little bit about where I work: TV newsstory on the Carlton Watkins album exhibit at the State Library.

Read it and Weep - II
From Michael Horton:

Christianity is not a culture. At its best, its understanding of God, human nature and identity, the meaning of life and history, the problem of evil and redemption, and so on, can shape a culture for the better. Nevertheless, history offers ample testimonies to how easily appeals to Christian truth and its absolute values have been misused to justify evil. At its best, Christianity can influence even unbelievers who are influenced by it into being more humane neighbors…. But there will not be a redeemed culture until Christ returns at the end of human history.

(quote found here)

Monday, August 22, 2005
Read it and Weep - I
A series of quotes from culturally pessimistic [gnostic] reformed folk.

Entry #1 is from Mark Karlburg's Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (from a book review of Antony Hoekema's Created in God's Image):

Hoekema proposes as another feature of man’s sanctification the development of a distinctively Christian culture (pp. 94-95, 201-2). He suggests that “the best contributions of each nation will enrich life on the new earth, and that whatever potentialities and gifts have been of value in this present life will somehow, in some way, be retained and enriched in the life to come. This implies that there will be continuity as well as discontinuity between the present life and the life to come, and that therefore our cultural, scientific, educational, and political endeavors today help to prepare for a fuller and richer life on the new earth” (pp. 94-95). It is not so certain, however, that this vision reflects the teaching of Scripture. Does not the radical and supernatural inbreaking of the Consummation necessitate the destruction of man’s cultural achievements (despite the fact that these cultural and technological pursuits are legitimate and necessary activities in the present course of history - activities deriving from the obligation placed upon the human race at creation [the cultural mandate], and made possible after the Fall through God’s operation of common grace)? How can we explain the fact that God has providentially entrusted the ungodly line with cultural development and advancement, whereas the godly line has been entrusted with the far more glorious ministry of reconciliation through the preaching of the gospel of salvation (cf. Gen 4:17-22; 2 Cor 5:18-19)? Are we justified in thinking that the works of the unrighteous will follow after them in the eternal kingdom while they themselves burn in hell-fire? In comparison, are the few and feeble (cultural) offerings of the saints to be transformed in the heavenly kingdom - a kingdom not made by human hands? Rather than speculate upon the enduring value of culture (which, as I read Scripture, will pass away), ought we not to glory in God alone?

Back from Camp
OPC Family camp that is. Had a delightful, relaxing time. Rob Rayburn's talks on the "dialectical" or "polar" nature of biblical truth was excellent. Dr. Rayburn is also on the board of Covenant College, so I got an opportunity to talk to him about the college, which so far is on my daughter's short list. There was also an alum of Grove City College at the camp, who I asked a number of questions.... And I rediscovered how much I like to play hearts!

If I had only brought my watercolor set...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005
What Is in a Name
It kind of snuck up on me so I didn't post about it until now. But earlier this month TNT had its three-year anniversary. In case your wondering about why I named the blog "The Native Tourist", I explained this in one of my first posts, way back in August 2002:

What is in a name?
Okay, so why the name "The Native Tourist"? What is a "native tourist"? The title of my blog marries together two distinct ideas:

tourist = a traveller, a sojourner, one who is "just looking"

native = a local, a citizen, one who "feels at home"

I coined this term to get at a key paradox of Christian Existence: how we are on the one hand described as "aliens and sojourners" in this present world (1 Peter 1:2, 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), yet at the same time were called to be culturally involved with God's good ( Genesis 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4) creation (Genesis 2:15 -- a seminal command which was never rescinded). For many serious Christians, being aliens in this world (and citizens in heaven -- Philippians 3:20) means that we should invest very little (if anything at all) in cultural, earth transformative works. We shouldn't get too attached to the things of this world. Were "just a passin' through." All that we see is going to pass away (burn actually). And after all, "You don't shine brass on a sinking ship." Augustine coined the term "resident aliens" to describe this idea. (See Andrew Sandlin's critique of this approach that has entered reformed circles of late.)

This view has it all backwards. We are aliens to be sure: not because we don't belong here; on the contrary the earth has been and always will be our home (Revelation 21-22). We are aliens because of sin. Our new natures in Christ (Romans 6) clash with the reality and effects of evil, and we long for the redemption of all creation (Romans 8:17ff) so that we might delight in this world without hesitation or reservation. Peter addresses the recipients of his epistle as aliens (pilgrims) particularly because they faced a culture (Hellenism) which was hostile to the truths and values of God. In a less hostile cultural situation (such as those historical epochs where the transformative power of the gospel has shaped a society -- 17th century Holland comes to mind) the term would have been less appropriate. Thus it is better to say, not that we are resident aliens, but that we are alienated residents!

This is my Father's world, my home now and for all eternity, and -- though it is a struggle -- I plan to work and fight for its positive development, healing and transformation. Do you want to join me in this endeavor?

Monday, August 15, 2005
Even More on Schilder
Matt continues his summaries of Schilder's Christ and Culture.

Along the way he has some nice things to say about my book. And has some insightful things to say about Kuyper's institutionalism...

There is Still Hope
Word on the street is that Mac X works on x86 processor PCs!!!

Friday, August 12, 2005
article at the WRF Comment site on Makoto Fujimura tireless efforts to organize and network Christian artists, especially in New York City.

I oft times wish that his art was more distinctive. But he is an excellent craftsman and he makes truly beautiful objects. These are the hallmarks of being a faithful artist.

Maybe someday I'll get to meet him.

Flat Nails It
Mark Horne flat nails it in this blog entry, which I quote in full:

The big lie

Every time we Christians talk about our need to reach contemporary culture, we are telling a lie to ourselves and others--a lie that worsens the problem we're trying to address.

We are contemporary culture just like everyone else who is now alive. We don't have to reach anywhere. We're already here.

Speech about reaching contemporary culture reveals our ongoing effort to keep the gospel away from most of who we are.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Fellow Authors
Over the weekend I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mark Sumpter, pastor of Faith OPC in Grants Pass, Oregon. He shares the distinction with me of being published by Canon Press: Mark is one of the contributors to To You and Your Children: Examining the Biblical Doctrine of Covenant Succession. (I look forward to reading this book as well as meeting Rob Rayburn, one the book's principle authors, next week at family camp!)

The reason we were in Grants Pass was for the annual youth rafting trip Faith Pres sponsors every year. A great fellowship time in a beautiful, wild place. Next week we're off the ponderosas in Eastern Oregon.

Friday, August 05, 2005
More Thoughts on Blue
Read another chapter in Blue Like Jazz last night. The chapter on love where Miller extolls the virtues of the hippies he lived with near Sisters, Ore. but found conservative Christians harsh and judgemental. While agree with his basic assessment of conservatives, I think that he is naive about the hippies. No doubt they were kind and excepting to him, but Miller makes the same mistake that Gaugin and Margaret Meade made about the natives in Tahiti and Samoa. They need to look deaper.

The subtitle of BLJ reveals the heart of Miller's project (and I think captures much of the heart of the "emergent" movement):

"Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality".

What does Miller mean by "nonreligious"? How one defines this term is key.
Are the experiences and anecdotes Miller so lucidly narrates really non-religious? They may stand outside the church. They may stand outside the mainstream. He reurns again and again to his time with the atheistic, nonreligious students at Reed College in Portland who he sees as uniquely virtuous. But he fails to see how entirely religious the academic community at Reed is. Reed is one of the most religious campuses in the world! (If you don't think this is so try stepping on one of their ideological idols and see what happens.)

I think that Miller slips into the old-fashioned dualism which has plagued historical evangelicalism and which Miller desires to overcome.

One of the glories of the Reformed theology is that it refuses into buy the secular/sacred dualism. We see that all of life is religious. Neo-Calvinist philosopher Roy Clauser puts it this way:

...one religious belief or another controls theory making in such a way that the contents of the theories differ depending on the contents of the religious belief they presuppose. In fact, so extensive is this religious influence that virtually all the major disagreements between competing theories in the sciences and in philosophy can ultimately be traced back to differences in their religious presuppositions.

This means that theories about math and physics, sociology and economics, art and ethics, politics and law can never be religiously neutral. They are all regulated by some religious belief. The effects of religious beliefs therefore extend far beyond providing the hope for life after death or influencing moral values and judgments. By controlling theory making, they produce important differences in the interpretation of issues that range over the whole of life .

Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Greatest Painting
I just saw an article about how the BBC is sponsoring a poll on what is the greatest painting in the UK.

This got me thinking. What is the greatest painting in United States of America? (Not just limited to US artists.) Here are some candidates off the top of my head:

A Sunday on the Grande Jatte by George Seurat

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin

A Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso

The Feast of the Gods by Titian and Bellini

The Polish Rider by Rembrandt

The Annunciation Tryptich by Robert Campin

I'm sure I'm missing some other obvious choices...

Monday, August 01, 2005
Why Is Everyone so Jazzed about Blue?
I have heard bits and pieces about Blue Like Jazz. That it was cool. (With a title like that, how could it not be?) That is was admired by the "emergent" set - The Ooze.com crowd. That it was postmodern and Christian. I even saw that Donald Miller, the author was invited to speak at a $75-a-plate business luncheon by George Fox University - the local evangelical college. And there was the gushing review in ByFaith (PCA) magazine.

Well my wife's friend loaned her a copy of the book she had just finished reading. I picked it up started to read it Saturday during lunch. By last night I had read about 2/3s of it.

There is no doubt that Miller is a gifted writer. His prose is a pleasure to read - even intoxicating at times. He has had a quirky life and he is a supurb storyteller, using his unique life experiences to map out some basic Christian truths. I also like the fact that much of the book is about Portland. I have been to many of the neighborhoods and spots that Miller describes. It is familiar terrain for me.

Overall, though, I don't find him saying all that much. Challenging and insightful in spots. Full of relational awareness (which is a weakness of mine). Even though his mapping out the contours of the Gospel, he almost never (ever?) quotes scripture. But on the whole it is pretty weightless, really. I would say that Blue (as a whole) has the same weight as three or four paragraphs of John Piper or Sinclair Fergusson. Or maybe two paragraphs of Calvin's Institutes. The book is engaging but hardly profound.

Could it be that people are grabbing onto Miller's autobiographical, personal approach? Reading the book is like evesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant. You want to hear the conversation to the end. Anne Lamotte's books/essays are the same way for me. As are the early books by Annie Dillard. But is it really all that different from C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy? Of course there is grand-daddy of this form: Augustine's Confessions.

All this makes me want to find my copy of Larry Woiwode's What I Think I Did and finally get around toreading it. I doubt I'll be able to read 2/3s of it in a couple of days...