Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 6
December 1997

Published by Theodore Plantinga

WE'VE MOVED. Myodicy is now housed in the Redeemer College server. Click here for the full internet address. Please edit your Myodicy bookmark.

In this issue ....

Are you afraid to assert that your church or your group "has the truth"? If so, you have plenty of company. Click here to read "The Truth About the Truth: Reflections on Denominational Exclusivism."

Is your list of good deeds embarrassingly short? Try taking credit for the good deeds of others. Institutions do it. Click here to read "Taking and Giving Credit."

Studying in a small college is a bit like living in a small town. There are definite benefits, but also some drawbacks. Yet things can be done to minimize the disadvantages. Click here to read "Affiliated Glory."

This past term, discussion at Redeemer College was dominated by the question of computers and education. My end-of-term report devotes some attention to this discussion, and also to other matters. Click here to read "End-of-Term Report: Fall Term 1997-98."


Don't take the term literally. I don't plan to turn pages for you. If I inform you of a website, I will simply pass on the address. But for the most part I will comment here on materials in the world of the printed page -- brief book notes, observations about periodicals, and perhaps a comment on an event.

On telling all .... In the previous issue I discussed narrative reticence. Just recently I read the autobiography of a Christian leader who tried to get beyond narrative reticence. Perhaps you have read it as well: Jerry Falwell's Strength for the Journey (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987). Since I'm in the Christian education business, one of the things that especially interested me was the founding and growth of Liberty University. Falwell is rather brief here (see pp. 392-6). The most controversial part of the book is the account of his role in the effort to salvage Jim Bakker's PTL ministry. Falwell became chairman of the PTL board when Bakker was forced out. It is hard to write about such matters without sounding self-serving. The most enjoyable part of the book is the first half, which deals with Falwell's childhood and early years of ministry. His own spiritual journey and conversion are dealt with at length, and within a framework that must be judged Biblically and theologically thoughtful. The book also offers considerable insight into characteristically Baptist ways of thinking. But the pace is leisurely: Falwell is looking for patient readers.

Is Canada worth saving? A Montreal radio show host named Thomas Schnurmacher (an immigrant from Hungary) thinks so. In a passionate tract entitled Canada Is Not a Real Country (the title is a famous quote from Lucien Bouchard), he fires broadsides at both the separatists, who have no respect for the democratic process (no does not mean no, as far as they are concerned) and the federalists, who are too weak-willed to stand up to them and wind up helping the separatist cause inadvertently. He also likes to blame Brian Mulroney for the current state of affairs: "Brian Mulroney made a deal with the devil when he allied himself with the Quebec nationalists to win the federal election. We are still paying the price for all the separatists he brought with him into the federal government." [p. 117; see also p. 63] This is a thesis that deserves careful exploration by the historians. I suspect there is a good deal of truth to it. I appreciate Schnurmacher's intent in writing, but in the end there is something unsatisfying about his book: Canada is the greatest place on earth, but Canadians are fools. Actually, we are "lambs." I think I'd rather be a rogue. At a certain point I found the rhetoric so strong that I felt impelled to turn to the front to see whether the book could actually have been published in Quebec. It was not. The publisher is ECW Press of Toronto, and the date is 1996.

Formerly unmentionable .... Male homosexuality used to qualify as the unspeakable. One had only a vague idea of what such people do. Now we hear all too much about it. But we need to hear about it, because there are moral, political and legal issues involved. I'm far from an expert on the subject, but I do know enough about it to recommend Jeffrey Satinover's book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996) to interested readers. If you give the book only a quick once-over, make sure to turn to chapter 3, where the medical aspects are discussed.

A world we have lost. I never thought I had missed out on much by growing up in the city rather than on the farm. But I just finished reading a book that has cast family life on the farm in a new light. And the book is by a philosopher -- Ronald Jager, a Calvin College graduate and Yale University professor. It is entitled Eighty Acres: Elegy for a Family Farm and was published by Beacon Press in 1990. The book is about Jager's own upbringing on an 80-acre farm near McBain, Michigan (general vicinity of Cadillac). The descriptions are exquisite, and the spirit and tone of the book are whimsical, without losing the realistic edge in passages about certain matters that would make city slickers feel faint. Running through the book are small portraits of a no-nonsense, undemonstrative Calvinism, a system of thought and conviction that provided the Jager family, and many other families in their community, with a spiritual and intellectual backbone. In some small measure, I felt that I lived through that upbringing with Jager. The book makes a wonderful gift.

Of mice and commands. Most computers books have a how-to focus. They are not meant to be read straight through; instead one reads snatches here and there, and consults the index. But there are also a few books that reflect on the cultural -- and even aesthetic -- aspect of computer workspace. One such is Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate, by Steven Johnson (San Francisco: Harper, 1997). In case you have the feeling that new versions of Windows are making it harder and harder to get at the programs, imposing mouse tasks and metaphors upon you (desktop, trash can, and so forth), you will find the book interesting reading. I still prefer a command-line approach to most computing tasks, and I like using a DOS prompt and batch files, but the new user interfaces leave less and less room for such straightforwardness. The idea is to create a certain illusion or sense of agency in the computer user. The graphic user interface leaves us with the impression that we are actually doing something, as opposed to instructing the computer to do it. For example, we are supposed to bring documents that need discarding over to the trash can, as opposed to typing a delete command at a DOS prompt. Such, at least, is the theory. To me it smacks of what we might call proletarianism, which is a glorification of work for its own sake. I'm not so enamoured of work that I would not prefer to be the boss. I'd rather give orders to the computer, especially a more complicated and detailed set of orders, such as one encoded in a batch file or a macro.

General information

This electronic journal is my way of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, former students, and so forth. It does not have a regular publication schedule. Feel free to download it and pass it around. You may even wish to send me a comment; I do not guarantee a response to each communication. If you wish to repost anything in this journal, please let me know. If you care to print something in paper form, this can also be arranged, provided that I retain the copyright so that I will remain free in my use of the material.

Theodore Plantinga
E-mail: [email protected]

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