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A Look at Christmas – Some Different Viewpoints

 

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Merry Christmas everyone!

Around the world, people (Christians and non-Christians alike) are celebrating this perennial winter holiday.

Here are some interesting articles I recently came upon that explores what the Bible says about the Virgin Birth (really technically the “Virgin Conception”) and the genre of the gospels as well.

The Not-So Virgin Birth of God” and “Six Problems with the Virgin Birth: Biblical and Historical Perspective“.

And an interesting article on how the date of December 25 came to be celebrated as Jesus’ birthday.

Here are our group’s personal reflections on Christmas and the Virgin birth as well from earlier in the year.

Some things to chew on for this Christmas season.

 

 

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“Silence” – a film by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s new move “Silence” opens this Christmas day.

It is based on Shusaku Endo’s book.

For historical background on the movie and the book, check out our post (the last essay on the bottom) about this topic here.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: “Confessions” Book VIII – Chapters 1 – 6

 

How pagan are modern-day church services today?  Have church services been pagan all along?

 

Here are our essays on Book VIII – Chapters 1 – 6 of Augustine’s Confessions.

We discussed the implications of delayed gratification, the pagan elements and origins of the Catholic Mass and Protestant services, the life of Anthony the Great and whether or not Christ calls us to a life of asceticism.

 

 

UPDATE: “Confessions”: Book VII – Chapters 11 – 21

 

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This past week we concluded Book VII of “Confessions” by covering chapters 11 – 21.

We had good conversations about human reason and the (Neoplatonic) discipline of focusing on spiritual things to draw closer to God; is Jesus the only way? and religious pluralism; the nature of Jesus; the nature of evil; the distinction between Creator and creation; the influence of Platonic thought on Christian education throughout the centuries and its problems.

We also had a stimulating discussion centering around the questions, “Who is Jesus?”  One can easily spurt out, “Oh, he’s my Lord and Savior.”  But if you trip away the “churchy” language everyone uses and really, really ask yourself who he is to you and what he really means to you (if anything), it might be harder than you think it is.  One reason I believe that it is so hard is because that question is also a very personal question as well.

You can read our essays here.

 

 

Questions for ‘Confessions’ – Book I, Chapters 11 – 20

 

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“The rich people of Rome had a great education. They were often schooled and were taught by their own private tutor, at home they would go to schools. The schools were boys only. All the learning was based from fear, The boys would be beaten for any offence. They did this because they figured if children fear getting the wrong answer they will get it correct. If a student were to get lots of answers wrong they would be held down and beaten with a leather strap. If you were poor chances are you would be able to read and write , but you would not be able to have your own tutor or be able to go to school. ” (source: https://historicalroots.wikispaces.com/Ancient+Romans) Augustine wrote about how he was beaten at school for bad performance. He writes, “I was still a boy when I first began to pray to you, my Help and Refuge. I used to prattle away to you, and though I was small, my devotion was great when I begged you not to let me be beaten at school. Sometimes, for my own good, you did not grant my prayer, and then my elders and even my parents, who certainly wished me no harm, would laugh at the beating I got – and in those days beatings were my one great bugbear.” (Confessions, Book I, Chapter 9)

 

 

 In these chapters, Augustine describes his early education and what his childhood was like.

 

Here are some interesting facts about the time in which Augustine lived in that will provide some background information to clarify some historical details.

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Brief Overview of St. Augustine’s Philosophy

I know that I stated that we’d be doing Augustine’s Confessions later on this month, but I’ve decided to hold off a bit longer to see if we can recruit some more people into the group, so we will not begin until June.

In the meantime, we will spend the rest of the month getting to know Augustine and the world he lived in better.

The video above gives an overview of Augustine’s philosophy and the world he lived in, which is vital to understand what and why he wrote.  Although much of the video focuses on his monumental The City of God, we still get a good general overall sense of his beliefs, especially his political philosophy, and why he is still relevant today.

UPDATE: Final Thoughts on Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years”

Well, we’ve come to the end after two years of reading “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” and we share our final thoughts here.

Howard and Chris share what they have learned and gained from reading this book; Michael writes about the historical development of how Greek pagan philosophy seeped into Western theology and how it has affected our contemporary reading of the Bible; I share my thoughts on divine intervention (or non-intervention more specifically) and history or my attempt to understand God’s role in history after having read this book.

We hope and pray that we will use the knowledge gained from this session wisely.  I believe that this is just the beginning of our journey into learning more about the history of the Church.

Final Thoughts on “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch

 

After a long hiatus, we will share our final thoughts on MacCulloch’s book.

 

Please write a summary of these main points:

  1. Go back to your very first essays here to see if reading this book fulfilled some or all of your expectations.  What were the strengths and weaknesses of this book in relation to your expectations from the start?
  2. Provide one (no more than two if need be) area or moment of Church history as told by MacCulloch that was most interesting for you or changed your perspective of Christianity.
  3. Finally, how has your faith been affected after having read through Church history? What lingering questions or thoughts do you still have?

 

We will have our final meeting on Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years next Sunday, May 3.

 

 

‘The Confessions of St. Augustine’

"The Conversion of St. Augustine" by Fra Angelico,  (circa 1395–1455)

“The Conversion of St. Augustine” by Fra Angelico, (circa 1395–1455)

 

 

‘You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.

You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.

You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.

I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.

You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.’

– Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (Book 10.27)

 

Starting in May, we will be taking an in-depth study into one of the most influential books ever written by one of the greatest and influential minds of the West, Confessions by Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, otherwise known as Augustine of Hippo (or St. Augustine).

 

Perhaps you had to read Confessions as a requirement for your classics or liberal arts classes during college, but only spent a couple of sessions on it. Or maybe you read it a long time ago and now want to visit it again and ruminate on Augustine’s thoughts a bit more thoroughly now. Whatever the reason may be, we invite you to join us as we begin a new venture into the heart and mind of a man deeply and passionately committed to his faith and whose thoughts still resonate vibrantly till this day.

 

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“The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” by Kurt Eichenwald in Newsweek

A friend sent me a link to this article about the Bible and biblical illiteracy among evangelicals today from the January 2015 issue of Newsweek.

The author makes the argument that modern American evangelicalism (aka the popular conservative portrayal of Christianity many have in mind in America) is quite at odds with what the Bible actually teaches, particularly when it comes to issues about the inerrancy of the Bible, issues on homosexuality, women’s roles in the church, the formation of the canon, and other issues.  In fact, the Bible condemns the style of Christianity modern evangelicals are practicing now, the article states.

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