An old piece, first published in Touchstone magazine. Contemporary horror films have nothing on Dante. His Inferno is full of terrors that even the most jaded film-maker would shrink from putting on screen: Nightmarish landscapes flowing with streams of boiling blood, deserts of burning sand showered by fire from Heaven, pits and rivers of black pitch, excrement, and muck, a lake eternally frozen that holds Satan, eternally munching on his victims. Noxious smells and putrid fogs fill the air, and as Dante… Read more

In Liberalism and Empire, Uday Singh Mehta calls attention to the neglected link between British liberalism and the British empire. He writes, “We rightly think of liberalism as committed to securing individual liberty and human dignity through a political cast that typically involves democratic and representative institutions, the guaranty of individual rights of property; and freedom of expression, association, and conscience, all of which are taken to limit the legitimate use of the authority of the state. Moreover, at least… Read more

Henry de Candole was one of the leaders of the early liturgical movement in the Church of England. In his 1935 The Sacraments and the Church, he explores “the corporate nature of Christianity” and places sacramental theology firmly within ecclesiology. He hits many, many of the right notes. He begins by asking whether the church is a “self-chosen” or a “natural” society. While acknowledging the element of choice, he insists (surprisingly to some, no doubt) that the church is a… Read more

The following are my opening remarks at the fifth annual Nevin Lectures, February 16-17, 2018.   Sixty years ago, British Pentecostal leader Donald Henry Frere Gee wrote that the Pentecostal Movement passed Jesus’ test: “By their fruit you shall know them.” While Pentecostalism “makes no claim to perfection,” he wrote, its “great and solid achievements in missionary work; its fervent contribution to the cause of true Revival; and most of all its utter loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ in… Read more

Between July and October 1936, WH Auden wrote a long, amusing poetic letter to the long-dead Lord Byron. Among other things, Auden catches the poet up on literary trends in the time since his demise, and among these is the triumph of the novel. And in this context he includes some famous observations on Jane Austen: I must remember, though, that you were dead Before the four great Russians lived, who brought The art of novel writing to a head;… Read more

Amos Yong (Renewing Christian Theology) insists that the charismatic gifts exist not to puff up the charismatic Christian but to edify the church and evangelize the world: “The spiritual gifts are bestowed by God upon and exercised by the body of Christ and its members for the common good of both the church and the world. The charismatic manifestations of the Spirit are never for the self-aggrandizement of those so equipped but are rather intended to accomplish God’s mission of… Read more

John Ciardi (How Does a Poem Mean?, 113)) imagines a “philosophical captain” giving his men a pre-battle pep talk: “Men of England, here at this brink of battle, let us summon to mind the triumphant image of Saint George the Dragon slayer, and with him ever in our minds as a symbol of our high heritage, let us move resolutely against the foe. Thank you.” It’s the “Thank you” that seals this – as if the captain had to beg… Read more

Some might have fondly thought that the nuttiness of the universities would stay on campus. It hasn’t happened. We all live on campus now, writes Andrew Sullivan. Concern for microaggressions has spread from campus to country: “How else do you explain how the glorious defenestration of horrific perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment so quickly turned into a focus on an unwanted hug or an off-color remark? The whole cultural Marxist idea of a microaggression, after all, is that it’s on… Read more

Robert Frost referred to the “pleasure of taking pains” over poetry. John Ciardi, who quotes this phrase in his How Does a Poem Mean?, explains that the paradox is only apparent. Poets take pains in their work in the same way that played take pains in the game. It’s the playfulness of poetry that explains its difficulty: “Chess is a play activity, yet it is play only because the players deliberately make the game difficult in order to overcome the difficulties…. Read more

In Renewing Christian Theology, Amos Yong cautions against understanding the charismata of the New Testament church as “supernatural” gifts “in the modernist sense.” Charismatics too need their nouvelle theologie. He elaborates: “Enlightenment rationalism distinguished what behaved according to natural laws versus what was thought to happen “supernaturally” due “only to divine activity. The earliest Christians did not operate according to such a dichotomous understanding of the natural and the supernatural. Rather there are various spiritual gifts, some more charismatic (such… Read more

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