American Christianity and the Hell of Paradise Lost

HellfireIn at least some contemporary circles, the topic of the afterlife and Hell are hot topics (pardon the pun). This is especially true within numerous Christian communities as they react to the perspectives of various pastors and scholars on hell and the state on non-Christians after death. It seems safe to say that most Americans know something about the concept of hell—that fiery place of torment that you go to if you’re not up to snuff with St. Peter (or something like that). And while numerous religious perspectives conceive of something similar to the Christian conception of hell (think of Hades for the ancient Greeks), what many people don’t realize is that the hell commonly conceived of by Americans isn’t really based on Biblical portrayals of someplace called hell. Indeed, much of what we think about hell and its prince, Satan, comes not from any scriptural text, but instead from the epic poetry of John Milton.[1] In this post, we will examine some of the Hell portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Continue reading

Thoughts on Reading the Bible

BibleTen thoughts on reading the Bible:

1. Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph, preferably more. Best is reading a whole book (more on that below). You can make any one verse mean any number of things, but considering the larger context of passage places that verse within a more meaningful narrative, making it easier to understand what the verse is saying. So always read verses within their larger narrative context. Continue reading

Women and the Church? Reflections from Romans

In addition to writing here, I also serve as Managing Editor at Conciliar Post, a website dedicated to faithful and serious thinking about important topics. One of the many things I enjoy about Conciliar Post are the monthly Round Table discussions, where several writers offer answers to a question about a contemporary cultural or theological issue. January’s Round Table was about the role of women in the Christian Church. After reading my contribution (below), I would encourage you to visit this discussion on Conciliar Post.

Women in the ChurchQ: What is the appropriate place and role of women in the Christian Church?

In answer to this question (or rather, as the beginning of an answer which extends beyond the brief remarks offered here), I want to take a historical and textual approach to the earliest Christian communities as referenced in Romans 16. When discussing the role of women in the Church, many Christians seem to take a perspective of “There isn’t biblical evidence for female pastors; therefore there shouldn’t be female pastors”, effectively ending their discussions of the subject there. Evidence for this view, in my opinion, seems tenuous at times, as I hope to demonstrate below. Continue reading

Reflections on the Institute for Creation Research

Institute for Creation ResearchThe topic of “Creation versus Evolution,” at least in many circles, often elicits a good deal of debate, many times in rather a heated manner. The point of this post is not to provoke strong emotions in anyone, but only to offer a few thoughts about the Institute for Creation Research, an outspoken advocate of scientific “Creationism.” The integration of faith and reason in science has been an important consideration for many American Protestant Christians over the past 120 years. In the early 1900’s, intellectual change on a number of levels was sweeping across America, especially in relation to biological science. In 1925, the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN made Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (first published in 1859) and brought a creation/evolution dichotomy to the forefront of American culture. Over the next few decades, the increasingly divided American Church responded to an increasingly secular scientific culture in a variety of ways. Many of the more “liberal” denominations acclimated to the changes in the philosophy of science, while many “conservative” denominations either fought against such changes or (more often) merely abandoned serious scientific inquiry altogether. By the 1970’s, the divide on creation and evolution was nearly complete, a divide that has directly impacted the nature of American Christianity on a variety of topics (scientific, theological, ethical, and political) since. Continue reading

Thoughts on Doubting Faith

DoubtAt some point or another, almost everyone who claims to follow any systematized faith or tradition of any sort will be faced with doubts. Doubts about the truthfulness of their beliefs. Doubts about the applicability what their claims. Doubts about thinking they way that they think. Today I want to briefly offer some thoughts on doubting faith, how to think about those doubts, and what to do about them. Continue reading

A (Free) College Education for Everyone?

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.
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Magdalen College, Oxford

You may have heard that last week President Obama announced an initiative to provide “free” community college education for qualifying students, tentatively defined as those maintaining a “C” average in school. As noted several months ago here at Conciliar Post, the status quo of the American education system needs reform, as the overall monetary and policy prioritization of K-12 education has done relatively little to effectively educate America’s youth and prepare them for their future vocations.1 Few deny that something needs to change in education, though conclusions as to just what that something is remain debated. The purposes of this article involve neither rehashing these concerns nor reacting to our President’s particular proposal—for actual details are scant at this point.2 Rather, this article considers the generalities of “free college education” for everyone, just one part of the greater “education question” that faces our nation. To these ends, I reflect on three questions concerning the cost, need, and implications of a program offering “free” community college education. Continue reading

Reflections on Beginning Anew (Semester)

Happy New Year hd wallpaper 2015For as far back as I can remember, the New Year has been something forth looking forward too. In the lull that follows the festivities and joy of Christmas (seeing old friends, eating too much good food, sharing gifts with family), having something to look forward to helps quite the spirit. “New” is invigorating – the past is behind us, our errors may be forgotten, and the future stands bright before us. This isn’t to suggest that everything new is necessarily good; history and experience indicate otherwise, and we would be wise to heed those lessons. Instead, the New Year and its accompanying newness offer us an opportunity to better our world, those around us, and ourselves. There is something cathartic about ringing in the New Year that propels us into the winter (at least for a while).  Continue reading

Christmas Letter 2014

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With Sam, Noah, and Madalyn at HillBilly Hideaway in NC

Merry Christmas from Jake and Hayley Prahlow! We hope that this missive finds you warm, well-fed (though not overly so, of course), and celebrating the joy of the Savior’s birth this December. 2014 has been another year of tremendous change for our family. Throughout everything that has happened this year, we have been reminded of our need to rely on the mercy of our gracious God and trust in Him, no matter where the path of life leads us. Continue reading

Pagan Christianity?

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

4087087895_0b2ea539c0_o-e1413998434680You occasionally hear it from the talking heads or on the History Channel. Maybe you notice an article about it on your newsfeed. Or catch the random title while browsing Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. Pagan Christianity: What you do on Sundays is really from Ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, or Royal Greece and certainly is not real Christian worship.

Maybe you listen for a few seconds, start to read that article, or read the back cover of that book. “Most of what present day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles.” [1] “How Mistakes and Changes Shaped the Bible We Read Today.” [2] Is walking down the aisle really derived from the Roman Imperial procession? Are Christian priests just pagan priests in disguise? Is there really any truth to these claims? Continue reading