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Ash Wednesday: An Anglican Tradition?

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 8.18.16 AMAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent, historically a season of fasting and penance.  The service that many will be most familiar with is a formal, sober liturgy, which includes (a) an invitation to keep a holy Lent, (b) the imposition of ashes, (c) readings from Holy Scripture, including the corporate reading of the Miserere mei Deus, (d) a corporate confession of sin, (e) the hearing of a sermon or homily and (f) the Holy Communion.  In various iterations the rite will be observed in Anglican, Roman, and Orthodox churches (Western Rite only).

My concern isn’t with the Roman or Orthodox observance of Ash Wednesday, but rather with the Anglican.  Specifically, my concern is with the claim that the observance of Ash Wednesday is part and parcel of historic Anglican liturgical practice.  Such a claim, like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire’s batting average, should come with an asterisk.  The purpose in pointing this out is not to lead a Quixotic tilting of the windmills against Ash Wednesday.  But rather to inform the reader that (a) a significant number of Anglicans have historical, theological and Biblical objections to the imposition of ashes (b) that their convictions are consistent with a stream of historic Anglicanism and (c) that such should not be made to feel “un-Anglican.”  (more…)

This post was written by Rob Sturdy

J.C. Ryle: Reasoning through the reliability of the Bible, Part 2.

“What evidence is there that the Bible is really from God?”

Last month, I began a three-part series looking at how Bishop J.C. Ryle answers this question. In his chapter “Inspiration” in Old Paths, he gives numerous reasons why the Bible is God’s inspired Word. These reasons he gave to persuade non-Christians he encountered in his ministry. In part one, I shared the first five. Here are two more that show that the Bible cannot be just a human creation:

1. There is an extraordinary unity and harmony in the contents of the Bible.

Ryle points out that the Bible was written over 1500 years by over 30 authors from multiple cultures, backgrounds, vocations, and educational levels. Most of these authors never met face to face. Each book has its own genre, setting, themes, audience, and message. Yet, despite all this particularity, they come together to proclaim one unified and consistent picture of God. They all tell one story of God, man, and salvation. Such unity and harmony is too complex a creation for even the most exacting editors.

While there are many examples of this continuity (my latest favorite is Alistair Hunter’s “dry land” re-creation theme that runs throughout the Scriptures), I’ll go with the biggest: Jesus fulfilling every office, institution, ritual, and figure of the Old Testament. There is no clearer explanation and example of this fulfillment than this short video. It is almost statistically impossible for so many variables to come together in the life of one man.

2. The Bible has had a most extraordinary effect on the condition of those nations in which it has been known, taught, and read.

While the Church hasn’t been perfect in this, Ryle invites “any honest minded reader” to concede that Christians have brought blessing to every country in which they are the majority. Ryle appeals to God’s common grace to give credence to the Bible’s inspired nature. Here are three examples.  (more…)

This post was written by Rob Sturdy

C.S. Lewis and the Road Trip from Hell

The Ridley Institute is excited to partner with the Whitfield Center at Charleston Southern and the C.S. Lewis Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 4.22.35 PMInstitute to host an evening at St. Andrew’s, Mount Pleasant on the life, writing and impact of C.S. Lewis.  On Feb 8th, St. Andrew’s will host Dr. Jerry Root and Bill Smith to discuss the topic of “C.S. Lewis and the Spiritual Journey.”  The event is free.  Doors will close and the talk will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m. 

A Road Trip from Hell.  That’s the basic premise of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, an allegory wrapped in a dream about the “divorce” between heaven and hell.  The title is a play on William Blake’s poetic work The Marriage of Heaven and HellMore than a mere play on Blake’s disorienting yet nevertheless, grand work, Lewis’ title is also a critique.  “In some sense,” wrote Lewis, “the attempt to make that marriage (between Heaven and Hell) is perennial.”  He went on to write:

The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or’; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain.  This belief I take to be a disastrous error.

The lines, which come from Lewis’ preface, are something of a brusque dismissal of Blake.  Blake’s allegory presented a universe where contraries fed off one another something like an internal combustion engine.  Just as in the engine, where burning fuel and air combine to power the motor, in Blake’s universe good and evil are merely different forms of energy that join to make the universe go.  Thus morality for Blake is not so much about decisions as it is about balance.  But Lewis is having none of it.  For Lewis, Blake’s marriage of contraries doesn’t represent reality, which as Lewis points out often presents us with “an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or.”  He went on to write:

You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind.  We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre:  rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision.  Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree.  It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection.  Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

Again, grounded in an appeal to the real world, Lewis notes that even in evolutionary biology, life itself progresses through a series of decisive moments from which the world is left permanently altered.  The same is true in the realm of human decision.  As Kierkegaard learned through his broken engagement with Regine Olsen, his lifelong love and lifelong regret, there are some decisions that one makes that cannot be revisited nor mended.  Decisions, at least according to Lewis, have more than temporal consequences.  Hence Lewis’ road trip from hell, which constitutes the bread and bones of his wonderfully insightful narrative in The Great Divorce.  (more…)

This post was written by Rob Sturdy

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