Writings by Dr. Blair

Keeping Faith with the Faith of Our Fathers

Introductory Lecture for the Jonathan Edwards / John Wesley

Tercentenary Preaching Festival of Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove, New Jersey September 26, 2003

The evangelical movement sailed forth in the fervor for the gospel of Christ in 18th century “Great Awakenings” on both shores of that ocean out there. As it’s been said, “Evangelicalism emerged precisely on the trailing edge of Christendom and the leading edge of modernity.” (D. Bruce Hindmarch) Between the demise of the world of ecclesiastical power and the rise of Enlightenment power, the renewed power of the gospel broke forth.

Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley and his circuit riding preachers had their work cut out for them. The religious landscape of Colonial America was anything but the stereotype of white steeple devotion to Christ. And it was no better in England. Most Colonial Americans did not go to church. Eighty-five percent were unaffiliated with any church. (Robert C. Fuller) By contrast, today, only around 35% of Americans are unaffiliated with organized religion. Edwards and Wesley and the Wesleyans faced what we do today: people who are, as they say today, “spiritual but not religious.” Early Americans engaged in magic and occult practices – astrology, divination, fortune telling – as so many do these days. They were “spiritual but not Read more →

COMING OUT AHEAD: Disconnecting, Connecting, and Reconnecting for Christ

An expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions 2003

INTRODUCTION

Earlier this year I was at Wheaton College for the centenary of that brilliant observer of the 20th century, Malcolm Muggeridge. He was the consummate insider who was ever the outsider. In his memoir, Chronicles of Wasted Time, he tells of a recurring scene in his mind, “both sleeping and waking.” He describes “standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to a quite different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what I should do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way on to the stage, and there look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me, and I realize that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak Read more →

The Summing Up

A Sermon by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York on August 31, 2003

As you may know, the night before he died in the Iraqi desert, NBC correspondent David Bloom sent his wife an e-mail that was later read at his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in the city. Here’s what he said to her in that last e-mail: “I hope and pray all my guys get out of this in one piece, but I’ll tell you, Mel, I am at peace. Here I am, supposedly at the peak of professional success, but I could, frankly, care less. It’s nothing compared to my relationship with you and the girls and Jesus.”

Despite a grueling pre-launch schedule for that last Columbia space shuttle, Commander Rick Husband made sixteen daily devotional video tapes for his children to watch, one for each of the sixteen days he’d be in space. And they watched them – right up into the morning the shuttle broke up and disintegrated forty miles over their Texas home. He’d also given a tape to his pastor. On that tape he says: “Tell them about Jesus. He means everything to me.”

But Jesus does not mean “everything” to everyone! New Yorkers hardly need to be reminded that Jesus is a “stumbling block” for many people. Citing the prophet Isaiah’s warning to Read more →

Pink Slips of Providence

A Sermon by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York June 22, 2003

Unemployment here in the city is around 9%? That’s far worse than the national rate of 6.1%. But 6.1% is better than the national average over the last 25 years. So what do these figures mean? Well, it’s one thing to know the figures from the papers. It’s something else to know them from pink slips. With a pink slip in hand, the figure is 100%.

Pink slips aren’t pretty. So why are pink slips pink? Pink is rosy. But pink slips don’t paint rosy pictures. They don’t put you in the pink; they put you in the blues. And then they can put you in the red – that darker shade of pink. At least that’s what fearful fantasies portend.

But can fearful fantasies predict truly? What if first impressions of pink slips are but partial and premature? Of course, they are but partial and premature. By definition, they’re shortsighted. So pink slips are poor predictors of all that’s coming. Mere fantasies cannot truly predict outcomes. And, even if they prefigure some of the circumstances, how can they Read more →

An Atheist’s Advice

A Sermon by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York on June 22, 2003

An atheist’s advice? Here it is: Christians should be Christians. That was the advice of at least one atheist. Back in 1948, French Dominicans asked existentialist Albert Camus to talk on the topic: “What Do Unbelievers Expect of Christians?” His remarkable response was that Christians should take their Christian faith more seriously than many do – and not in terms of mere “abstraction.” This philosopher who spent his life fighting nihilism and totalitarianism said that Christians should “speak out, loud and clear … in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man” as to the truth of their Christian witness.

This was in the same year that another honest unbeliever, Eric Blair, wrote his prophetic novel against the totalitarian utopias of Stalinism, Nazism, capitalist excess and the welfare state – all of which were foolishly embraced by Christians who failed to grasp the depths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Blair, whose 100th birthday was 12 days ago, wrote the book under his Read more →

On Evangelical Faith and Homosexuality

A Lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary
March 21, 2003

What’s so immediately evident is this: Of all Christians, Evangelicals have perhaps the most difficulty integrating any expression of homosexuality with Christian faith. But here’s what’s not so immediately evident: Of all Christians, Evangelicals should have the least difficulty integrating at least some expression of homosexuality with Christian faith.

Why do so many Evangelicals have such difficulty? Perhaps it’s because they tend to take neither sin nor the evangel as seriously as they say they do? They would not have such difficulty if they but took sin and the evangel as seriously as they ought.

Evangelicals say that sin is so horrible that it cost Jesus his life on the cross. And it is so horrible. And it did cost Jesus his life. Jesus went to the cross to atone for the horror of this Read more →

Blessed Assurance

for The City Church, New York on March 9, 2003

As I mentioned, today is the birthday of Phoebe Palmer Knapp. It was 130 years ago, in the Knapp mansion on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, that she first played her new hymn tune for her friend, the blind poet, Fanny Crosby. “What does this tune say, Fanny?,” she asked. Her friend answered with no hesitation: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!,” and she went on to write the rest of it.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Both women knew just what that meant, though they came from very different backgrounds. One was born to New York’s high society and married the founder of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The other was born to a hardscrabble life up in Putnam County and now lived among black servants and day laborers in a tenement down at Varick and Canal Streets. But they both belonged to Jesus. They both belonged to Jesus, to whom, in Fanny’s words, they submitted in perfect delight, in whose Spirit they were Read more →

Plain Christianity

A Study Series for The City Church, New York, Winter, 2002

By Dr. Ralph Blair

Introduction

Three weeks ago I was in California for a wedding. On Sunday morning, I was taken to Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral where “never is heard a discouraging word.” At least that’s the intention at the palace of “possibility thinking.”

The choir sang Charles Wesley’s glorious hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing My Great Redeemer’s Praise.” Accompanied by the massive pipe organ and full orchestra, it was an inspiring sound of praise. For that hymn, Wesley had written these lines: “Jesus, the Name that charms our fears, / That bids our sorrows cease; / ‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears, / ‘Tis life, and health, and peace.” But in Schuller’s so-called “Positive Christianity,” Wesley’s biblical theology gets sanitized. They are no longer “sinner’s ears” but “listener’s ears” where the name of Jesus sounds as music. But in singing of “My Great Redeemer’s Praise,” what am I then redeemed from? Isn’t it in the ear of one who knows himself or herself to be a sinner in need of salvation that the name of Jesus – Redeemer – is music? It is sin from which we’re saved. And, of course, there was no confession of sin at the Crystal Cathedral. As Dr. Boyd has reminded us, many churches these days consider a confession of sin to be “a downer.” Schuller does. He vows never to address his congregation as sinners. Well that’s a downer. Without a realistic diagnosis there’s no realistic remedy. If sin brings one down – as it does – the confession of that sin should be anything but “a downer.” Read more →

Our Only Comfort

Our Only Comfort Our Only Comfort in Life and in Death
Meditations in The Heidelberg Catechism

Dr. Ralph Blair

The City Church, New York, October 6, 13, 20, 27, 2002

FIRST LESSON

The interruption of everyday life by sudden death and destruction was never as massive here in America as on 9/11 a year ago. And yet, fewer than half of Americans polled by Barna Research reported that religious faith was the key – or even a key – resource in coping with the attacks. George Barna rightly concludes that this finding “says something about the spiritual complacency of the American public.” Read more →

The Best Parent and Friend of Lesbians and Gays

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Remarks to Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, September 8, 2002

Turning to the Bible in a discussion of homosexuality, we don’t have to begin with those few verses that are misused to abuse homosexuals. (You may read my analysis of those verses in The Bible is an Empty Closet.) Instead, we can begin at the beginning.

For Christians, it all started when the Trinity of Love we Christians know as the Triune God said: “Let us make human beings in our image.” [Gen. 1:26] That’s when we were given the gift of life and life together – life with God and life with one another. So, as a Bible scholar puts it, “The Trinitarian sociality of God is the basis for true creaturely sociality. The desire we have for union … — whether the union of solidarity, or of friendship, or of intimacy, or of sexual intercourse – is a desire which expresses the divine nature within us.” [Stephen Barton] That Divine Team who is the Trinity creates us for teamwork, too. And the gift of desire for a teamed togetherness is given to homosexuals no less than to heterosexuals.
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