Volume 25

Guests on Volume 25: Douglas Groothuis, on The Soul in Cyberspace; Harold Bloom, on the Gnostic view of creation and fall; Gilbert Meilaender, on the outlines of a distinctively Christian bioethics; Susan Bergman, on martyrs and the meaning of suffering; Paul Marshall, on international persecution of Christians; George Marsden, on The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship; Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, on divorce as a democratic institution; and Leonard Payton, on The Pilgrim's Progress by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

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Part 1

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    Douglas Groothuis on The Soul in Cyberspace

    The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker Book House, 1997)

    Douglas Groothuis, author of The Soul in Cyberspace, contends that the Internet's ability to deny both the user's body (by focusing only on the mind) and the user's individual human identity (by facilitating anonymity) shows that it is highly influenced by Gnostic ideas. Technology in general, he claims, offers a new conduit of liberation and, going slightly further, salvation. Since this "salvation" is a product of human ingenuity, it is nothing less than idolatry. Groothuis is not anti-technology but instead asserts that it is simply a tool which must be used correctly. He warns against budding ideas of the future "virtual Church," which deny the importance of incarnational life and the practice of believers gathering together to worship and serve "in the flesh."

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    Harold Bloom on the Gnostic view of creation and fall

    Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection (Berkeley Publishing Group, 1997)

    Literary critic Harold Bloom believes that the roots of gnosticism, or the search for inner divinity and knowledge as salvation, are naturally plausible for the American public. At the same time, however, the public at large seems to ignore the deeper elements of gnosticism which are essential to an understanding, such as the deep intellectual and cognitive aspects. Opposing the notion that gnosticism involves any kind of faith process, Bloom comments that "it is a process of knowing in which one in some sense fuses the knower and the known, a very difficult matter indeed."

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    Gilbert Meilaender on the outlines of a distinctively Christian bioethics

    Bioethics: A Primer for Christians (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996)

    Gilbert Meilander, author of Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, examines misunderstandings contemporary Christians have about bioethics and gives a positive model of a Christian bioethic on the issue of cloning. Meilander traces our discomfort with suffering and disability to a false understanding of humanity that is centered around the issue of "personhood," missing the idea of embodiment. Instead of basing notions of humanity in the fact that one is begotten of a man and a woman, the culture defines humanity by certain distinguishing characteristics. To avoid such reductionist thought, Christians should base their understanding of bioethical issues in the broad narrative of the Christian life, according to Meilander.

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    Susan Bergman on martyrs and the meaning of suffering

    Martyrs: Contemporary Writers in Modern Lives of Faith (Harper Collins Publishers, 1996)

    Susan Bergman, editor of the anthology Martyrs: Contemporary Writers in Modern Lives of Faith, speaks about the meaning of martyrdom and the difference between martyrdom and human rights. For Bergman, the meaning of martyrdom reflects the purposeful suffering of Christ which points to the resurrection. In contrast to those fighting for human rights (although she acknowledges their importance), Bergman focuses on the stories of individual martyrs with whom she seeks to identify.

Part 2

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    Paul Marshall on international persecution of Christians

    Their Blood Cries Out: The Worldwide Tragedy of Modern Christians Who Are Dying for Their Faith (Word, 1997)

    Paul Marshall, author of Their Blood Cries Out, speaks about contemporary persecution throughout the world. He outlines why this persecution is taking place and growing, especially in Islamic, communist countries and south Asian countries. He also explores why this is ignored both in American churches—liberal and protestant—and in secular circles.

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    George Marsden on The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship

    The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford University Press, 1997)

    George Marsden, professor of history at Notre Dame University, believes contemporary universities should be open to explicitly Christian scholarship. The academy continues to be skeptical of Christian scholarship; modern thinkers view it as too traditional, while scholars with a postmodern perspective view it as not relativistic enough. Marsden believes Christian scholarship can serve as a witness to the plausibility of belief within the academy, and hopes Christians won't abandon the academy but instead be a light in an often alien social environment.

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    Barbara Dafoe Whitehead on divorce as a democratic institution

    The Divorce Culture (Knopf, 1996)

    In her book The Divorce Culture, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead traces the current view of divorce in society from the views of the founding fathers to the current more accepting view of divorce. In the late twentieth century, according to Whitehead, the popular notion of divorce was transformed from a source of shame to a positive institution which could enhance the lives of the parents. This shift also coincided with a change in the societal view of marriage from a communal understanding to a more individual understanding of the relationship.

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    Leonard Payton on The Pilgrim's Progress by Ralph Vaughn Williams

    Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

    Leonard Payton discusses the work of early twentieth century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Though not a Christian, Williams nevertheless worked on a revision of the English Anglican hymnal and the music for The Pilgrim's Progress.