Thoughts (for Students) on Language

Unexpectedly in mid-summer vacation, my departmental chair asked me whether I could assume supervision of some courses previously taught by a faculty member who had taken retirement on short notice at the end of the spring semester. One course concerned the Anglo-Saxon and Norman roots of Modern English and in general the history of the language. The other course concerned theories of language, of which it is designed to offer a survey, more or less at the instructor’s discretion. The clientele for both courses comes largely from the current cohort of teachers-in-training in my college’s School of Education and in some part from English majors. The new assignment required me to marshal my knowledge of the two areas and quickly to devise two syllabi. In writing the syllabi, I decided to introduce each course to its enrollment in the form of an essay. There is some repetition of ideas in both introductions, but that is inevitable given that the subject-matter of the two courses necessarily overlaps. I share the results with my fellow Orthosphereans.

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Chris Rosebrough’s Testimony: How the Biblical Gospel Set Him Free

(Original title: Grace vs. Law: How to Make Sense of the Contradiction)


Why do many people reject Christianity? I believe the root cause could be called “fear of the Law.” Everyone knows that God makes demands on us, for morality is “hardwired” into our souls. The sum total of the behavior that God requires of us, written in Scripture, is commonly called the law. But man also knows that he does not keep the law, and this knowledge haunts him.

Christians know that God has solved the problem by providing salvation for us through the work of Jesus Christ. And yet not all professing Christians are aware of this solution, for man does not naturally understand or accept the gospel, which is both the complement and the antithesis of law. While law is what God requires us to do, gospel is what God, in Christ, has done for us: atone for our sins through the death of Christ. Since the gospel, unlike the law, is not something that man naturally understands, all non-Christians—and many professing Christians—view the law as the essence of religion. Some therefore love religion, and some therefore hate it, but all such people misunderstand Christianity.

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Literary Criticism without Literature

My title has two meanings. The first is that, since the 1980s at least, what calls itself literary criticism has consisted largely of abstract theory, most often concerned primarily with itself. An enterprise both gnostic and narcissistic, such criticism reduces ultimately to ideological formulas which, once pried free from the encrustation of verbiage, reveal themselves as the hoariest of political clichés, never out of daily use since 1848, which function mainly as group-identity noises. All contemporary critics are smarter than Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Dostoyevsky, but no one is smarter than le grand Jacques, Noam Chomsky, or Naomi Wolf. Although exiled to the periphery, actual criticism has continued to exist, but it is the tendentious type of discourse that has come to dominate the English and other literature departments over the last thirty years. The second meaning, the one that interests me in what follows, relates closely to the first.

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Proposal: American History Month


Various months have been officially designated Ethnic Group History Month, times set aside for the group’s members to express reverence for their ancestors and their people, and those outside the group are expected use the occasion to acknowledge virtue in another people.

As conservatives, we recognize that all people ought to cultivate reverence for their ancestors and their group. Therefore there ought to be an American History Month.

The value of such a celebration becomes clear upon reflection. Although there is a great deal of interest in and discussion of American history in the public square, the systematic instruction of the young in American history is seriously lacking: Continue reading

Sacraments: A Simple Explanation for Children

Well, for young people, anyway. In what follows, I visualized my daughter at about age 16.

Daughter:       Daddy? Can I ask you a question?

Father:            Sure, sweetie pea. What is it?

Daughter:       Well, you know the Baptism at Church this morning?

Father:            Yeah. That was a cute baby. Too bad about his mother’s dress. Good thing that baby spit up is such good clean stuff; it almost always comes out pretty well.

Daughter:       Yeah. I thought she handled it fairly well. I like Baptisms. Something always goes wrong, but they always turn out well in the end. They make everyone in the congregation so happy. And it’s not just because people like babies, although that’s part of it. I mean, it’s that plus the fact that they are always a bit spooky, even when the baby cries or the godparents don’t get the words right. Especially the bit about the baby joining in Christ’s eternal priesthood.

Father:            I love that part! It’s always so amazing to me; as if I can see a whole everlasting adventure, a mighty kingship in Heaven, exploding out into the future from such a tiny little body, with no end or limit. And it always reminds me of my own eternal priesthood, too.

Daughter:       Well, that’s what I wanted to ask you about.

Father:            What do you mean?

Daughter:       Well, how does the Baptism work? I mean, how do the water and the words make me a priestess? How do they change me, or make me immortal? I mean, I don’t even remember my Baptism.

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Repost: No Evidence for God?

To piggyback on Bonald’s post below:

At his blog, our Proph recently reposted an item that linked to an essay of mine at the old Intellectual Conservative. Since the old IC was taken down by evil leftist (but I’m redundant) hackers, Proph’s link to my essay is dead. So here is my old IC essay.  Its basic thrust: When atheists claim there is no evidence for God, they are assuming atheism at the beginning, looking at life through atheist-colored glasses, and then seeing nothing but atheism. They are being supremely illogical.

 No Evidence for God?

Atheism now has a confession of faith. Christians say “Jesus is Lord.” Moslems say “There is no God but Allah.” And English-speaking atheists now say “There is no evidence for God.” But are they correct? Continue reading

The Name of the Word

In the comments on my post about the epithet Jesus so often used to refer to himself, Son of Man, some readers expressed surprise and concern at the notion to which I there referred in passing that God the Son, YHWH, was to be distinguished from God the Father, El Elyon, God Most High, Deus in excelsis. I noted that their difference is not of being, but of person: thus a reference to any Person of God would be a reference to God.

Readers worried nonetheless that the differentiation might be an innovation of recent liberal scholars of the Bible – of, that is to say, latter-day Gnostics – or even of mine. It is not. On the contrary, it has been with us from the very beginning, not just of the Church, but of Israel.

By coincidence, I last night came across a passage from one of the Fathers of the Church, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, that substantiates this claim. In explaining why the early Church differentiated between YHWH and El Elyon, and providing the Scriptural basis for the notion, he shows that it was considered orthodox by the bishops of the first centuries of the Church.

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The Basis of Our Salvation

Here at the Orthosphere, we’ve been discussing Christian salvation. It’s time for another basic point.

If God saves us, what is his specific reason, his specific warrant, as it were, for doing so? One could imagine God saving us on a whim, but being just, God always has valid reasons for doing what he does.

According to the biblical testimony, God saves us because we are righteous. But given that we are sinners, how can we be righteous?

[For proof that all of us are sinners, see, e.g., Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8.

For proof that some of us are also righteous, see, e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9.]

Well, if God declares us to be righteous, then you can be assured that we are. As we said, God always has valid reasons for doing whatever he does. And if we are righteous, then all of the other benefits (and “side effects”) of salvation will most assuredly occur: sanctification, love, good works, perseverance, repentance from sin, and so on.


So on what basis does God declare us righteous?  Scripture declares that God does so on the basis of faith alone. See, e.g., Romans 3:28

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Justified” means “declared [or proved] righteous.” Continue reading

Reader Requests Help Learning Apologetics

Commenting on my article Christian Apologetics: Giving Reasons to Believe, Sarah says

Hello! I am actually currently trying to learn apologetics in response to Islam’s claims against Christianity. I get thrown a ton of claims by Muslims I know. Most I can dispute, but some I can’t find information on. I’d actually like to learn from an actual apologetic personally. Do you know anyone that would be willing to teach and disciple? Thank you and God bless!

First of all, Sarah, I want to commend you for your interest in learning how to defend Christianity. We need more Christians with that desire.

I can only give some general advice, so I am throwing this question open to my readers: Can you recommend some good practical resources on equipping Christians to argue against Islam? Continue reading

The Importance of Preaching Salvation

In a comment to Bonald’s post Dives in Hell, Bruce Charlton says, inter alia,

A near exclusive focus on the binary event of salvation/ not salvation simply fails to capture the broad characteristics of the Gospel. The Gospel must be GOOD news, it is about saving sinners, it is joyous, hopeful, positive; but on the other hand and equally, universal/ compulsory salvation is not consistent with the Bible.

Theosis is necessary because if (as I believe) salvation is ‘easy’ and straightforward (because Christ made it easy for us) then salvation is not the focus of the Christian life for most people who live beyond their conversion – the focus then should move to theosis – which is where things like sacraments, good works, Good Living (marriage and family) come in (in a word – Love).

Charlton is right that salvation is, so to speak, ‘easy.’  It can occur in an instant, when we repent and trust Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. It is not like sanctification, which is worked out over a lifetime.

But there is a problem with his next step (apparently a reasonable deduction) that therefore salvation ought not to be the focus of the Christian life. Continue reading