Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lincoln's Leadership Qualifications

This week I've been enjoying David Herbert Donald's 1995 biography called simply, "Lincoln". (I've been reading it to celebrate Abraham Lincoln's birthday next month).

A passage I read tonight reminded me of the debates and discussions from the 2008 Presidential election over the experience (or lack of experience) of the candidates (specifically Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama).

Here's how Dr. Donald's described Abraham Lincoln's leadership qualifications in 1859 as Lincoln considered running for President:

"To all outward appearances he was less prepared to be President of the United States than any other man who had run for that high office. Without family tradition or wealth, he had received only the briefest of formal schooling. Now fifty years old, he had no administrative experience or any sort; he had never been governor of his state or even mayor of Springfield. A profound student of the Constitution and of the writings of the Founding Fathers, he had limited acquaintance with the government they had established. He had served only a single, less than successful term in the House of Representatives and for the past ten years had held no public office. Though he was one of the founders of the Republican party, he held no close friends and only a few acquaintances in the populous Eastern states, whose votes would be crucial in the election. To be sure, his debates with Douglas had brought him national attention, but he had lost the senatorial election both in 1855 and 1859."

After initially telling reporters, "I must, in candor, say I do not think myself fit for the Presidency", Lincoln (as we know now) decided to organize supporters who then helped him successfully gain the office in 1860.

An interesting comment on Lincoln's leadership qualifications,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Faith of Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has been in the news quite a lot in the past few days. Yesterday at his inauguration, President Obama used the same Bible that Lincoln used when he was sworn in as President. And a few days prior to the inaugural President Obama took a train (as Lincoln did) into Washington, D.C.

Next month, we'll celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. To remember Lincoln, for the past several weeks, I've been reading David Herbert Donald's biography of Lincoln (written in 1995).

Dr. Donald's access to Lincoln's personal letters provides a number of insights into the history and personality of our 16th president. Of interest to me was his description of Lincoln's religious beliefs.

Dr. Donald notes that Lincoln's parents were members of the Separate Baptist Church "whose members accepted traditional Baptist beliefs, like predestination and opposition to infant baptism, but refused to endorse any formal creed. Adhering to a very strict code of morality, which condemned profanity, intoxication, gossip, horse racing, and dancing, most Separate Baptists were opposed to slavery. Abraham shared his parents' view." (pg. 24)

He notes that as a young man the religious disputes in his community attracted his attention "though, like his father, he was reluctant to accept any creed. His parents' Baptist belief in predestination was deeply ingrained in his mind, though he felt more comfortable in thinking that events were foreordained by immutable natural laws than by a personal deity." (pg. 48)

Later in his life he was accused by political opponents of holding heretical beliefs because of discussions he had as a young man about the veracity of miracles, the accuracy of the Bible and because he never became a member of a Christian Church. He wrote a formal denial of these accusations during his race for Congress in 1846:

"That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular." (pg. 49)

Interesting also was the language that Lincoln used in a letter in 1850 to his father Thomas Lincoln, who was on the verge of death:

Abraham Lincoln urged his father "to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker; who...notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads."

Interesting words of faith from our sixteenth President.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Church and the World lectures

This week I finished listening and taking notes on the course called "The Church and the World" from Reformed Theological Seminary.

The professor of the course, Dr. W. Andrew Hoffecker, provides a detailed description of the changes in theology from the 18th century to the present.

The best lectures for me were the ones at the end of the course that focused on more recent events and trends: Evangelicalism (2 lectures) and Culture Wars (5 lectures).

The school has also posted these lectures on iTunes U for free. I recommend them.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Today Barak Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. CNN has an interesting interactive site with information (including trivia and speeches) for each of the previous Presidential inaugurals.

Here's the link: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2009/44.president/inauguration/speechlibrary/index.html


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ramblings on Theology

For the last few weeks I've been doing a lot of reading on contemporary theology in my latest class at Reformed Theological Seminary called "The Church and the World".

The reading is at times tedious as I read about the devolution (or evolution, depending on one's perspective) from traditional Christian beliefs found in the traditional teachings of the church to the more contemporary writings of Kant, Schleiermacher, Barth and others.

I find that I don't have a lot of patience for those modern Christian theologians who reject what have historically been the essentials of the Christian faith: the deity of Christ, human sinfulness and the inspiration of Scripture among other things.

I have a hard time understanding why they would even want to describe themselves as a "Christian theologian" if all (or most) of the historic tenets of Christianity are rejected. Just call yourself a "deist" or "pantheist".

As these contemporary theologians have rejected the historical tenets of the Christian faith, they have tried to redefine and reduce Christianity by focusing on one of two things: "feelings" (termed by some as a 'God-consciousness') or ethical behavior (to help others live a righteous life or liberate oneself or our society).

This is unfortunate, because the basic assumption of Christian teaching (taught from the beginning of the Church) is that something really happened in history. Christians have believed for centuries that God revealed Himself in human history in events such as the creation of the world and the Exodus from Egypt and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christians have taught throughout the centuries that we can know about God and his work in history because He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Christians throughout the centuries have believed that individuals have sinned, are under God's wrath and need to be redeemed. They have taught that God in His great mercy, sent His son Jesus to earth. And in His death on the cross, it has been taught, Jesus satisfied God's demand for justice and paid the punishment for the sins of those who believe in Him. Christians throughout the centuries have taught that one can receive that forgiveness by repentance and trust in Christ.

Many contemporary theologians have rejected all or most of these points.

Richard Niebuhr summed up the new brand of "Christianity" that rejects the historic view of Christian faith by explaining that they proclaim:

"A God without without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross."

That pretty much sums up what I've been reading lately,

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

English Puritan Class

I finished my course on "The English Puritans" this week at Reformed Theological Seminary. The course contains lectures by J.I. Packer and can be listened to for free at iTunes U.

I found the best resource in the course to be Dr. Packer's book "A Quest for Godliness". I read the book in the early 90's and it was great to read it again earlier in the fall. The hero of the book is John Owen.

Owen lived from 1616 -1683 and (as I noted over the summer) much of his work has been reprinted and can also be found online. Here's a link to The Puritan Library which contains is work online: http://www.puritanlibrary.com/