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Immortal Intimacy: Where, When, Who, Why & What of Heaven

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1991, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at the University of Denver.

Copyright ©1991. Ralph Blair, 311 E. 72nd St New York, New York 10021


Peggy Lee sings of going to “the greatest show on earth” when she was twelve years old. She remembers:

“There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.”

And she recalls that:

“As I sat there watching the marvellous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to the circus?’
Then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks down by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
And then one day he went away
And I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t
I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to love?’”

Have you ever thought like this? Remember your disappointment when the cartoon show flashed those three unwanted words: “That’s All, Folks!” Remember the emptiness late on Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened and abandoned, and all the excitement that had raised expectations for weeks was gone? I’ve heard it for years in therapy: Is that all there is—to sex? to love? to career? to success? to rational living? to life? And if we don’t go deeper with such questions, we settle for superficial solutions. We sing along with Peggy Lee:

“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball,
If that’s all there is.”

She goes on:

“I know you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all.
Oh no. Not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes
And I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee and The Preacher of Ecclesiastes agree: all is vanity. But one responds with calls to reverence God and the other calls for a ball and booze. But the ball ends. Lust doesn’t last. Does anything? Well, after the hangovers we still fear the futility of life we sought to escape. Said Malcolm Muggeridge: “It would be a terrible prospect, wouldn’t it, to just go on and on and on. Everything is bearable because we die.” Yet who wants to die? We die against our will. We may pretend it’s “death with dignity.” There’s a nice lie: Dignified death—“Cold Obstruction’s apathy!” [Byron]. Read more →

Empathways

by Ralph Blair

Empathways is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address at connECtions98 in the summer of 1998.


INTRODUCTION

“Can I see another’s woe, / And not be in sorrow, too? / Can I see another’s grief, / And not seek for kind relief?”

What William Blake here had in mind was empathy as we usually think of it—in connection with another person’s misfortune. But empathy can also connect with another person’s good fortune. In his prayer-poem, “The Celestial Surgeon,” Robert Louis Stevenson reproaches himself at the thought that “beams from happy human eyes / Have moved me not.”

Someone tells of a man who came by to meet his friend and saw her talking with a shabbily-dressed woman with a small child at her side. As he approached, he saw his friend give money to the stranger who then, with her child in tow, quickly moved on. When he reached his friend she told him that that little child had leukemia. He said: “Nonsense. That kid’s not sick. It’s a scam!” His friend said: “You mean that child doesn’t have leukemia?” “Of course not,” he insisted. “Oh,” she replied, “That’s a relief!”’

Who do you think was practicing empathy here? The woman who gave money to that mother or the man who said the mother was lying? Maybe both? Maybe both. You might be as surprised about that as you were with the woman’s expression of relief. We’re going to think about empathy so we might do empathy better.

Some people insist on distinguishing empathy from sympathy. These purists want us to say we empathize with people in the same boat and sympathize with people in a different boat. To them, “I feel your pain” is empathy but “I can imagine your pain” is sympathy. Fair enough. We don’t want to be so insensitive as to tell people we “know exactly” what they’re going through when we’ve never gone through exactly what they’re going through. But fussing over rigid distinctions might mean we’ll miss the boat on empathy—no matter what we call it. Besides, are we not all in the same boat? Some may be in First Class and some may be in steerage, but we’re all on the “Titanic.”

In addition to empathy as this ability to feel for or identify with another in his or her situation, there’s another dimension to empathy. The emphasis here is on accurate prediction. Empathy can be the ability to predict accurately the thinking, feeling and behavior of others.

Back when I was in grad school I studied a psychometric instrument called The Empathy Test. Its validity was established on the basis of how well car salesmen (they were all men in those days) could predict the difference between those who were serious about buying a car and those who dropped by only to take a ride. Obviously, an ability to predict which were serious buyers and which were not could save lots of time and money for the dealer. He didn’t want to be taken for a ride. Here, empathy wasn’t about warm fuzzies; it was about cold cash. So empathy isn’t just hand-holding. The better we are at empathic accuracy, the more successful we’ll be in all sorts of relationships with other people. Read more →

Anger!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of his address on anger at connECtion95, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge and Mills College, June and July, 1995.

©1995. Ralph Blair, 311 East 72nd Street, New York, New York 10021


INTRODUCTION

In a promo for New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, cartoonist Howard Cruse depicts a gay guy asking his lesbian friend: “Where’s the meeting for people who’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?” She consults the Center’s schedule and replies: “Hm—Depends on what night of the week it is.” Gay columnist Bruce Bawer rightly objects to the fact that “many gay leaders and commentators persist in encouraging us to celebrate rage.” Of course, lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are feeling angry these days.

According to the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern [Baptist] Seminary: “The whole Christian Right movement feeds off of a ‘theology of resentment.’“ [Ken Chafin] A prominent evangelical journalist reports that “Moods of … anger dominate the conservative evangelical subculture.” [Rodney Clapp] Evangelist Luis Palau warns: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things, … we American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.”

And how did the angry evangelicals react to Palau’s concerns? Harping on the so-called “gay agenda,” one asked: “Has [Palau] never heard of prayers for God’s judgment on the wicked?” Said another: “Clinton is vile … Yes, I pray for our president … but most of those prayers are imprecatory.” A U.S. News poll finds that most people who say they hate President Clinton call themselves “born again” Christians. Just before last fall’s elections, the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert urged voters to pray down evil upon the Democrats on the group’s so-called Philistine List, “enemies of Christianity and/or biblical morality.” The prayer warriors were told: “Don’t hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them!” This kind of “make-my-day religion” gives rise to placards proclaiming: “God hates fags” and “Thank God for AIDS,” the popularity of Frank Peretti’s novels of politico-spiritual warfare, the fundamentalist flavor of apocalyptic rhetoric in the self-styled militia movement, hateful messages on the Internet, and the increasing incidence of religiously-motivated hate crimes. Read more →

CALVIN500/ARMINIUS400

CALVIN500/ARMINIUS400

The 7th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Festival

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 9-11, 2009

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


CALVIN500/ARMINIUS400: An Introductory Lecture

Calvin500. It’s not the new line from Calvin Klein. And Arminius400 isn’t Armani’s new fragrance.

See, some gay men are queer enough to get into something more than fashion and fragrance. That’s us, right! Back in the ‘80s, the New York Times said that our Friday night Bible study “is not what most people think New York gay men do on Friday nights.” And, most still don’t.

At least here in New York, very few gay men meet on Friday nights for Bible study. More do as a New York Press writer testifies he does: “It’s Friday night and I’m headed to the East Side Club, one of the last two remaining gay bathhouses in New York City.” He describes it as a “labyrinth of interconnecting dark hallways lined on either side with innumerable clapboard rooms.” I don’t think he intended the pun.

And yet, according to evangelical pollster George Barna, across America, “a substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life … and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Well, try telling an average New Yorker or evangelical Christian that a bunch of gay men are meeting in Ocean Grove this weekend in honor of two 16th century Protestant Reformers and to hear some biblical preaching and you’ll get any response but, “Well, duh!” Yet, here we are! One gay Christian emailed me, saying that he and another gay Christian would skip our event so they wouldn’t miss what he called the “historic” Equality March in Washington. But I’d say what we’re doing here is really more historic than yet another staged rally of gay rage in Washington.

Calvinists celebrate Calvin with gusto. Arminians celebrate Arminius—but with a little less gusto. And each group can be rather hostile to the other. This year, around the world, there are many celebrations of Calvin and at least one other commemoration of Arminius. But our event here in Ocean Grove seems to be the only one that’s remembering both theologians—together.

Maybe it’s not so strange that we’re the ones celebrating both groups’ guys. After all, we’re two groups’ guys—evangelical and gay. So it’s not such a stretch for us to see things from two perspectives—together.

Read more →

[The] Overcoming Outrage!

by Ralph Blair

[The] Overcoming Outrage is Dr. Ralph Blair’s keynote at the 2009 Evangelicals Concerned summer connECtions held at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at the Holiday Inn in Palm Springs, California.

[The] Overcoming Outrage © 2009 by Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


Have you noticed any rampant outrage these days? Lots of people are “outraged.” That’s what they claim. They’re “OUTRAGED!”—in big, bold italic caps and punctuated by exclamation points with none of the expletives deleted. Are they merely vocabulary-challenged?

And folks try to enlist others in their outrage, hoping that a chorus of outrage outdoes outrage on one’s own.

But is it all a bit overdone? Is it prompting only exasperated eyeball-rolls of, “Puh-leeze!” and angry shout-backs of, “Well, we’re outraged at your outrage! So there!”

Some outrage is sheathed in some seeming civility, but it’s still a seething resentment and passive aggression.

Outrage is over-the-top anger. When, as it feels, we’re attacked by unwanted emotions—say, fear, hurt, frustration, irritation—we try to get on top of the feelings by venting outrage as “righteous” indignation.

Outrage can be spontaneous—as in losing our temper. But lots of outrage is strictly for show—as in temper-tantrums.

And have you noticed that most of us are what so many are outraged at, i.e., LGBTs and Christians? And if we’re both, we get outrage from both. When we get outrage from them, do we get outraged at them? If so, do we get more outraged at the Christians or at the LGBTs?

Do we get outraged at ourselves? Google’s count is 17 million results for “outrage” but only 117 for “outrage at ourselves”—an unfortunate ratio. It can be useful to be outraged at ourselves since we can get our hands on it and maybe do something about it. We can’t get our hands on other’s outrage, though we might be tempted to get our hands around their necks. But that should remind us of our own outrageousness and turn us from griping to getting a grip. And, getting rid of our outrage might preempt outrage against us. But waiting for others to get over themselves is frustrating, even futile. Getting over ourselves instead of having to wait around for them to get over themselves is efficient.

And whether we’re outraged at others, or others are outraged at us, or we’re outraged at ourselves, a sober perspective can help. Read more →

RECORD: Spring 2017

(PDF version available here.)

“Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P”.  This was The New York Times headline on April 22, 2016.  Given the LGBT anxiety over the election results – Columbia professors even wrote, “the cluster of suicides this month can have no other meaning” [since retracted] – it would be useful for both the Left and the Right to gain more accurate perspectives on Trump’s history and LGBT issues.

Before the election, Times’ political correspondent Maggie Haberman pointed out that Trump’s “views of gay rights and gay people are what most distinguish Mr. Trump from previous Republican standard-bearers.”  She noted, for example, that, “Elton John and his longtime boyfriend, David Furnish, entered a civil partnership on Dec. 21, 2005, in England under a law the country had just enacted granting recognition to same-sex couples. The congratulations poured in as the two men appeared at a joyous ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, amid a crush of paparazzi.  Donald J. Trump, who had known the couple for years, took to his blog to express his excitement.”

According to the Times, Trump “has nurtured long friendships with gay people, employed gay workers in prominent positions, and moved with ease in industries where gays have long exerted influence.”  Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans president is cited: “He will be the most gay-friendly Republican nominee for president ever.”

The Times’ article went on to state that Trump’s “history with the gay community is a long one.  He donated to charities focused on the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.  In 2000, when he briefly considered running for president, he gave an interview to The Advocate, a gay magazine, in which he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to “include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.”  The Times notes that, “sixteen years later, gay rights advocates are still trying to persuade Congress to pass a similar measure.”  She quotes Trump’s saying: “I know many, many gay people. Tremendous people!”  The Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rauch, who calls himself “an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual”, affirms that Trump has long “spoken more inclusively about LGBT people than have previous GOP nominees”. Read more →

REVIEW: Spring 2017

“Religious Freedom for Me but Not for Thee?” by Paul Crookston, National Review, February 21, 2017;  “Europe’s Islam Problem and U.S. Immigration Policy” by Shannon Gilreath, Washington Blade, January 19, 2017.

 by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

National Review’s Collegiate Network Fellow and Gordon College graduate, Crookston, rightly notes: “America’s enshrinement of religious freedom is as exceptional as it is valuable”.  Here, he reports on disputes within the Southern Baptist Convention over an amicus brief filed by SBC’s International Mission Board and SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Along with similar support from the National Association of Evangelicals and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, this brief has backed the right of Muslims to build a mosque in New Jersey.  The court has ruled in the Muslims’ favor.

Baptist opposition to religious freedom flies in the face of historic Baptist support for such freedom in the founding the Rhode Island colony as a haven for Baptists, as well as for Quakers, Jews and all others, safe from persecution by intolerant Puritans.  Yet, an angry SBC preacher objects: “I want no part in supporting a false religion.”  Of course, in America, his right not to hold what he takes to be false belief exists alongside another’s right to hold that belief.  So Crookston rightly assesses the angry protester to be mistaken.

Ironically, though Crookston doesn’t refer to it specifically, the Federal government is assaulting the religious liberty of his own alma mater through its Title IX restrictions on the college’s views on homosexuality.  He does note: “Unfortunately, many on the left snidely put ‘religious liberty’ into scare quotes, arguing that it’s time to put florists out of business in order to assert the state’s absolute right to legislate progressive morality.” Read more →

RECORD: Winter 2017

(PDF version available here.)

The 2017 Evangelicals Concerned calendar includes our 30th Presidents Day Winter Weekend Bible Study, our 75th ConnECtion and our 15th Fall Preaching Festival. 

   The Presidents Day Weekend Bible study will be February 18-20 at The Turning Point at Kirkridge Retreat in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

ConnECtion2017 will be June 2-4 at The Nelson Lodge atop the mountain at Kirkridge.  Todd Komarnicki, film producer and Sully screenwriter, will keynote, as will actress Jane Bradbury, who’ll read from Amy Carmichael’s devotionals.  Ralph Blair will also speak.     

The Fall Preaching Festival, in grateful celebration of the Luther 500th, will be October 6-8 at Ocean Grove on the Jersey Shore.

Gay marriage and an Islamist’s mass murder in an Orlando gay club ranked 9th and 10th among lifetime events that Americans say impacted them most.  This Pew Research found that Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 slaughter was the event that most impacted Americans’ lives.

Christian country superstar Carrie Underwood has voiced wholehearted support of marriage for same-sex couples.  In January, she gave an impromptu performance at Passion 2017, a major 3-day evangelical event where over 55,000 members of the collegiate generation packed the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  Afterwards, she tweeted: “What an incredible night!  Thanks for letting me be a small part of it!”

But Wesley Wildmon, a heterosexually married grandson of the founder of the Religious Right’s American Family Association, wasted no time in sending out his open letter publicly protesting her presence on stage.  AFA’s 27-year-old Director of Outreach blasted the evangelical organizers of Passion 2017 for permitting the appearance of one who supports “those who practice homosexuality”.

Jen and Brandon Hatmaker are two more evangelicals who support marriage for same-sex couples.  Co-stars of a popular real-life family series on HGTV, they’ve now learned how very quickly there can be a costly backlash to such empathy and support.

Jen’s public comments came in response to a question from Religious News Service’s Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical who is same-sex attracted though committed to celibacy.  He asked if she supported marriage for same-sex couples and she replied: “I would never wish anything less for my gay friends”.  She explained, “Just like the rest of us, [they] need marriage support”.  Her husband then defended the position on Facebook.  Ever since, bookstores, e.g., Southern Baptist LifeWay Stores, have refused to carry her books.

Christianity Today’s Kate Shellnutt notes that Jen’s position is consistent with her overall approach, though applying it to same-sex issues was too much for many other evangelicals to accept.  Shellnutt says: “Jen is very sensitive to the outsider … she is so passionate about including others: cultural outsiders, the homeless, racial minorities, people who have been hurt by the church”.  She adds that Hatmaker’s recent comments only “clarify and update what she’s said previously.”

Read more →

REVIEW: Winter 2017

“Keller, Moore, De Young on How to Speak to Our Culture About Sex”, Ryan Troglin, ed., The Gospel Coalition, August 23, 2016.

 by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

In 1954, C. S. Lewis was asked about homosexuality.  He recalled 1918, when he was an atheist and his closest friend, a devout Christian, confided that he was homosexual.  He’s said that Arthur “fulfilled the Gospel precept: ‘he judged not’. …  I learned charity from him and failed, for all my efforts, to teach him arrogance.”  Lewis dedicated Pilgrim’s Regress to him.  After their lifetime of letters, Lewis could reply to his recent inquirer: “All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it.”  In 1955, he noted the “hypocrisy” and “nausea” on the topic, adding, “I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment.”  He wrote: “Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”  In 1960, he assured a homosexual artist that he stood with him and with all his kind against the antigay “busybodies”.

Four Gospel Coalition busybodies now share their antigay views while biblically and historically ill informed and up against the revisions of their fellow “Reformed and ever reforming” Christians.  Presbyterian Church in America pastor Tim Keller, the Southern Baptist political ethicist Russell D. Moore, mainline Reformed Church in America pastor Kevin De Young and TGC editor Ryan Troglin, a 2015 Southern Seminary graduate, do show some nuance here, but they’re all held hostage to ignorance and church politics. Read more →

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

The 2016 Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove Preaching Festival

Columbus Day Weekend

October 7-9, 2016

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

“1516, 1616, 1716, 1816, 1916”

John Foxe   John Owen   John Berridge   Francis Asbury   J. C. Ryle   Eugenia Price

 Including Three Sermons by Dr. Ralph Blair
“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”, “Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us” and “Participating in His Providence”

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On the last day of October, 1517, a 33-year-old Wittenberg University theologian, Martin Luther, took his courageous public stand for the Gospel. He posted ninety-five arguments against what he contended were Rome’s unbiblical teachings, such as the papal “indulgences” that he saw as simply scams for enriching the church hierarcy through fiancial payments for the forgiveness of sin. He argued that these shameful shakedowns mocked our “treasury of merit” in Christ alone.

Having long agonized over his own sins, and having finally found full relief in God’s unmerited mercy in Christ, he committed himself to confront the ecclesiastical establishment and comfort the ecclesiastically exploited.

In his liberating discovery of God’s grace in Christ alone, clearly revealed in the Bible, he was moved to provoke a return to the Christian witness of the early apostles and to move that witness forward into the future.

As we look forward to the Luther Quintcentenary in 2017, we pause here in 2016, to gratefully reflect on that 16th-century revival’s fruit in continued preaching of God’s Good News through each generation since Luther’s day.

Tonight, we’ll glimpse the ministries of six faithful Christians whose work sprang from the influence of that historically biblical Reformation. These faithful Christians were born or died in 1516, 1616, 1716, 1816 or 1916.

 

John Foxe (1516 – April 18, 1587)

In Germany, in the year before Luther posted his call for Gospel purity, there was a call for purity of another staple on Luther’s table. He’d quipped: “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, doesn’t sin; whoever doesn’t sin, enters Heaven! So, let’s drink beer!” Germany’s Beer Purity Law, Das Reinheitsgebot was adopted in 1516. It became the world’s longest lasting food quality control for more than four and a half centuries – until 1987, when it was ditched by some bureaucrats in the European Union.

Over in England in that same year of 1516, a boy named John Foxe was born. It was the year that England’s Master of the Posts, predecessor of the Royal Mail, was set up and the year that Thomas More finished Utopia, his fictional “nowhere”, so often mistaken as a “good place”. Over at Basel, Erasmus was publishing his Greek New Testament, Hieronymus Bosch, the artist of intoxicating triptychs, died, and the cleric and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced the latest of his world maps. His 1507 version had depicted a newly discovered continent that he designated, Americi.

In Venice, Jews were being forced to reside inside a district called the “Venetian Ghetto”, ever after lending its name to all restrained residential neighborhoods. The Ottoman Empire declared war on other Muslims in Egypt and Syria and defeated the Muslim owned slave-soldiers of Gaza.

Luther died when Foxe was 30 years old, so, Foxe’s more immediate contemporaries among the Protestant Reformers were really Calvin, Beza and Bullinger.

We honor Foxe for his life’s consuming work, Actes and Monuments. It’s a multivolume history of centuries of persecuted Christians. First published in Latin at Basel in 1554, and reprinted for centuries since, it’s known today as, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. For many years, among the poor, it was the one book they owned besides the Bible. A century later, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress would become the third volume in those little libraries.   Read more →

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