MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 148

Guests on Volume 148: Steven D. Smith on how a modern “religion without God” characterizes what alleges to be secular neutrality; Willem Vanderburg on the costs of forgetting the unity and interdependence of Creation; Jeffrey Bilbro on lessons from Wendell Berry’s poetry, fiction, and essays about the virtues that characterize people who foster sustainable cultures; Emma Mason on the theological concerns evident in the poetry of Christina Rossetti; Alison Milbank on how the Gothic literary genre in England expressed ambivalence about the effects of the Reformation; and Timothy Larsen on George MacDonald and Victorian earnestness about faith and anxieties about doubt.

 

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Part 1

  • Description
    Steven D. Smith on how a modern “religion without God” characterizes what alleges to be secular neutrality.
    Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Eerdmans)

    “Paganism is a label you can use to refer to a kind of immanent religiosity or a view that there is something that’s sacred and holy, but it’s not transcendent — it’s not part of a different sphere of being or another world. It is immanent in this world. And I suggest that that in a sense is the natural condition of humanity. Unless there’s something that comes along to lift us out of that, that is sort of our natural assumption.”

    —Steven D. Smith

  • Description
    Willem Vanderburg on the costs of forgetting the unity and interdependence of Creation.
    Secular Nations under New Gods: Christianity's Subversion by Technology and Politics (University of Toronto Press)

    “About 100 years ago . . . we began to rearrange all human knowing and doing by means of disciplines. From the perspective of human history, that’s an extraordinarily strange way of arranging our knowing and doing. What we do with the discipline-based organization is, we say to the physicist, ‘Here, you study physical phenomena,’ . . . and to the sociologist, ‘Here, you study social phenomena,’ . . . In other words, we study human life and the world one category of phenomena at a time. And that has enormous limitation.”

    — Willem Vanderburg

  • Description
    Jeffrey Bilbro on lessons from Wendell Berry’s poetry, fiction, and essays about the virtues that characterize people who foster sustainable cultures.
    Virtues of Renewal: Wendell Berry's Sustainable Forms (University Press of Kentucky)

    “So much of the cult of the artist today is about originality and making things new and coming up with the latest and greatest, but that’s really a symptom of a technological society — that we always have to have a new iteration of the gadget . . . Berry’s emphasis [is] on fidelity and sticking with things that might seem old and obsolete and worn out, and trying to be creative about how they might be renewed and made useful and new again. A renewal presupposes that something good has come earlier and that our task is not to create ‘ex nihilo’ — that’s God’s task — but to renew that which has been broken.”

    — Jeffrey Bilbro

     

Part 2

  • Description
    Emma Mason on the theological concerns evident in the poetry of Christina Rossetti.
    Christina Rossetti: Poetry, Ecology, Faith (Oxford University Press)

    “What poetry does is almost push us into a position where we have to pay really close attention to words. It’s very difficult to read a poem quickly, and I think when we try to that’s often when people just get frustrated with it and say, ‘Oh, I don’t understand this,’ or ‘It feels inaccessible.’ Obviously, Rossetti works very hard to make her poetry quite accessible by using a very strong form, by using rhythm and by using rhyme. And it’s quite enjoyable to read.  But I think underneath those rhymes and really in the poem are these very deep and profound meanings and reflections that are both philosophical and theological. Poetry enables this layering of ideas and layering of our feelings about those ideas . . .”

    — Emma Mason

  • Description

    Alison Milbank on how the Gothic literary genre in England expressed ambivalence about the effects of the Reformation.

    God & the Gothic: Religion, Romance and Reality in the English Literary Tradition (Oxford University Press)

    “I really do think that the ‘explained supernatural’ plays the 18th-century game of saying, ‘Yes, we have gotten beyond the past. We now live in an enlightened world.’ But then it begins to question that enlightenment. And I think that’s the point of the way that it works in Ann Radcliffe. And it’s also a Protestant mode which is partly about idolatry. I do think that there is a very Protestant form of Gothic whereby you show the deadness of the idol in order to point to the livingness of the true God.”

    — Alison Milbank

  • Description
    Timothy Larsen on George MacDonald and Victorian earnestness about faith and anxieties about doubt.
    George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles: Incarnation, Doubt, and Reenchantment (IVP Academic)

    “Questioning is natural and inevitable. It’s how you get to a more mature Christian view. To not doubt something is to not think about it. So, MacDonald can see that this is just a maturation process. You were told about the Virgin Birth when you were 11, and now you’re 18 and you’re thinking about it again in a new way, and to think about it is to doubt it. That questioning, not in the kind of scoffing, accusatory way but just in the processing way, is part of life. It’s part of the Christian life.”

    — Timothy Larsen