31 March 2006

Stumbling Blog -- 1Cor 1:23

This holds some promise and may be worth watching.

Frank "Centuri0n" Turk explains the future constituency of a new blogging community:
"We're Baptists of the most-wicked kind, the ones who aren't ashamed of being Baptist and radically-engaged in promoting reformation (not reinvention) in the church body."

On the format of the new blog-community, Centuri0n continues:
I think that the problem [with so many good posts going unread] is a blog problem and not a blogger problem: you don't have a chance to sample the goods in a sidebar, but if you had the chance to read the "headlines" or the blurbs, you'd be in for a LOT of them.

Here's what it boils down to:
A blog aggregator which requires the participants to stay inside a confessional gate – like the Cambridge Declaration, substantiated by one of the 4 major confessions – will set the bar a lot higher in terms of content and real meat.

29 March 2006

Not Lent, But...

I wish we made a bigger deal of Easter.Angel on the Tomb
I wish my evangelical sub-tradition treated Easter more like we treat Christmas. In my circles, we really celebrate Christmas for almost a month before the actual day. We often begin singing Christmas hymns in church well before the week of the holiday. Christmas plays and special services frequently take place in the second week of December or earlier. At least at my church, Christmas season—it gets to be a season!—is an edifying, Christ-centered, worshipful series of weeks.

But, from my limited perspective, Easter does not always get as much attention. The lack probably has more to do with congregations than their leadership. I imagine, few pastors would be upset about serious celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Many pastors, I imagine, try to elevate Easter in the minds of their people. But, perhaps due to cultural considerations, celebrating Easter doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Spring outfits make their debut, and nothing else changes.

I am, perhaps, more guilty in this arena than most. But I want to change that. First, although it is persnickety to insist on terminology like this (so I won’t), I want to start thinking of it as Resurrection (Sun)day. It helps me remember what the day is all about, and why it’s worth making a big deal over. The resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian religion. Few doctrines in the Scriptures compare with it in clarity and importance. This historical event forms the foundation of our Christian hope, and it enables us to experience profound Christian joy. For we know this: Christ has conquered death, so no enemy may conquer those who are in him.

Second, I want to start giving special consideration to the Resurrection now, instead of waiting for the holiday itself. Now, I have a deeply rooted bias against formalism, and I never want to institute a binding tradition on the consciences of others. But to mortify my own autonomy, I want to give myself regularly to contemplating the Resurrection of Christ and its implications for me. Obviously, I should celebrate the Resurrection every day. But I do better celebrating it every day, if I set aside particular days to do it.

Third, I want to set aside some extra time to invite people to hear the message of the Resurrection at my local assembly. To wholeheartedly celebrate the Resurrection entails asking others to celebrate it with you. As C. S. Lewis said,

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise what ever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: "Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?" The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p. 95).

That’s the kind of delight the Resurrected Christ deserves.

27 March 2006

Merry Christmas!

_Susan Takes Aim_ from Walden MediaWith less than three weeks until Easter, you might wonder at my title, but I wanted point out something I had missed over the holiday season. As an introduction to fan fiction ("fiction written by people who enjoy a film, novel, television show or other media work, using the characters and situations developed in it and developing new plots in which to use these characters"), I suppose this is not a bad specimen. It is a short story of Susan the Gentle from the Chronicles of Narnia.

If you remember, Susan was not with Aslan and the others at the Last Battle because she had stopped believing in Narnia. I don't particularly like that ending, but I am not altogether sure I would like it changed either. But I enjoyed the short story, so I won't spoil the plot.

I think what striked me most about the story is actually something from the book. It is the power of self-deception. Susan, even while she had contact with others who believed in Narnia, denied truth that she knew by experience. Seeing Aslan, ruling Narnia for decades, knowing dozens of Talking Animals did not seal the deal for Susan. All the experience in the world could not give her the kind of faith that lasts.

A warning Lewis would have intended (though undoubtedly coming at it from a different theological framework) is the necessity of genuine conversion and perseverance. How desperately we need the gospel of grace in both realms! Without it we live under the wrath of God because we squeeze out of thought what he has made obvious to everyone: his true deity and inexhaustible might. We see it all around us, and we know it from within as well. But, without grace in conversion, we push it down and try hard to forget it at every turn (Rom 1:16-32). And, on the other side, without Christ upholding us by grace through the gospel, without his Spirit preserving our spiritual life, perseverance would be impossible.

23 March 2006

Old Man-New Man (Part 2)

To complete the two part series on Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image, I wanted to mention how he sees the parallel passage in Ephesians. I may slightly nuance what he presents here, but I still like the crystallization. I suppose my only substantive complaint is that he did not relate these texts explicitly to the categories Paul uses in Romans 5–8. I see the definitive break with sin occurring as the old man (i.e, what we were in Adam, slaves to sin) is crucified with Christ in our union with him. But because Hoekema's focus is on how the new man relates to the image of God, the correlation may have fallen beyond his immediate interest. Again parenthetical references to Greek have been omitted.

Ephesians 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; (23) to be made new in the attitude of your minds; (24) and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

This passage contains three infinitives, both in the translation and in the Greek: “to put off"; “to be made new”; and “to put on”. Many English translations render these infinitives as if they were imperatives, as if the apostle were saying: You must put off the old self, you must be renewed, and you must put on the new self. Though occasionally Greek infinitives may be used as imperatives (as, e.g. in Rom. 12:15), it is not necessary to interpret them as such here. I prefer, with John Murray [Principles of Conduct, pp. 214–219], to think of these forms as infinitives of result or as explanatory infinitives, depending on the verb “you were taught”, and giving the content of that teaching. This is, in fact, the way in which the NIV renders that passage (see above).
Since you have come to know Christ, Paul is saying to the believers in Ephesus, you have been taught once and for all to put off your old self, to be continually made new in the attitude of your minds, and once and for all to put on the new self. In words reminiscent of Colossians 3:9–10, Paul says that a Christian is a person who has decisively and irrevocably put off the old self and put on the new self, and who must continually and progressively be renewed in the spirit or attitude of his or her mind. A once-for-all change of direction is to be accompanied by daily, progressive renewal. The Christian is a new person, but he or she still has a lot of growing to do(pp. 26-27).

21 March 2006

Old Man-New Man

Research is a funny thing. My first year at seminary I did a paper on the “old man/self” and “new man/self” language in Colossians 3. As in all my Pauline studies to date, exhaustiveness eluded me. In fact, I just recently came across a good summary of my take on the passage in Anthony A. Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image. I liked how he says it so much, I’ll give him two posts. (Parenthetical references to the Greek have been omitted.)

At the beginning of chapter 3 Paul addresses his Colossian readers as those who have been raised with Christ, and must therefore set their hearts on things above rather than on earthly things (vv. 1-2). He then urges his readers to put to death whatever belongs to their earthly nature, and goes on to utter a number of prohibitions. In verse 9 Paul tells the Colossians Christians not to lie to each other, “since you have taken off your old self with its practices….”
What does Paul mean here by “old self” or “old man”? According to John Murray, “‘Old man’ is a designation of the person in his unity as dominated by the flesh and sin.” The old self, in other words, is what we are by nature: slaves to sin. However, Paul says to believers at Colossae, since you have become one with Christ you are no longer slaves to sin, for you have taken off the old man or old self that was enslaved to sin and put on the new self. After the analogy of what has just been said about the old man, we conclude that the new man or new self must mean the person in his unity ruled by the Holy Spirit. You ought not to lie, Paul is saying, because lying does not comport with the new self you have put on.
But even the new self is not yet perfect, for, as Paul goes on to say, it “is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (v. 10). If something needs to be renewed it is not yet perfect…. Paul looks upon believers as those who have once and for all taken off or put off their old selves and have once and for all put on their new selves—new selves, however, that are being continually and progressively renewed. In other words, in light of this passage believers should not look upon themselves as slaves to sin or as “old selves,” nor as being partly “old selves” and partly “new selves,” but as those who are new persons in Christ. Yet the new selves believers have put on are not yet perfect or sinless, since these new selves must still progressively renewed by the Holy Spirit. Christians should therefore see themselves as people who are genuinely new, though not yet totally new (pp. 25-26).

17 March 2006

A Humbling Proverb or Two

If you are a seminarian and happen to like being smacked with an ax right between your eyes, you might want to look right here.

Here's a sampling:
It is not for theologs, O Lemuel, it is not for theologs to tarry long in heated discussion with doctors.
The glory of a seminarian is his humility, and not his display of erudition....
Ask to understand, not argue. If you are sure your question is probing and insightful, hold your tongue. No doubt your teacher is about to answer it.
At the very least, remember someone else asked your insightful question long before you did. Live in the light of their shadow and be accordingly humble.

If it doesn't help or if you are not taking classes at the moment: get out of town, take a long look at the night sky, and think to yourself, "This is the work of God's fingers!"

Ps. 8:4-5 "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

Here is another proverb (this one directly from the Scriptures) that has given me pause lately:

Prov. 16:5 "The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished."

15 March 2006

Searching for the Gospel of Jesus

Here is an interesting article about how radical commitment to Jesus is at the heart of the gospel and should be at the heart of our evangelism. I think the point is well taken. A “four spiritual laws” type of Christianity tends to forget that while God does love you and have a wonderful plan for your life, the God-man Jesus calls you to lose your life for his sake. So Donald Miller is right: becoming a Christian is less like “sitting in a chair” and more like committing one’s life as “a bride to a bridegroom.”

But red flags go up when Miller says things like:

Maybe the Gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about our relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense they delude, or perhaps ignore, the necessary relationship that must begin between God and us for us to become His followers. And worse, perhaps our formulas and bullet points and steps steal the sincerity we might engage God with.

As I look at my red flag I find big bold letters: FALSE DICHOTOMY. You can't pit doctrine against relationship like that! Now, of course, Miller is on the ball and anticipates my response:

But I am suggesting that, not unlike any other relationship, a person might need to understand that Jesus is alive, that He is God, that we need to submit to Him, that He has the power to save, and so on—all of which are ideas, but ideas entangled in a kind of relational dynamic…. Biblically, you're hard-pressed to find theological ideas divorced from their relational context.

If he stayed there, I would be satisfied. It is true that ideas are not enough and that relational and personal submission to Christ is essential: so to this point I am happy. This is what Jesus and Paul and Augustine and Luther and Calvin (and even Wesley) all taught. But Miller says something none of them would:

In fact, I believe the Bible is screaming this idea [that a relationship with God requires more mysterious interaction than following a recipe] and is completely silent on any other [italics mine], including our formulas and bullet points. It seems, rather, that Christ's parables and His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood were designed to bypass the memorization of ideas and cause us to wrestle with a certain need to cling to Him.

While he anticipates the argument, he does not allow the argument to thoroughly pervade his thinking. He still has “memorization of ideas” on one side and wrestling “with a certain need to cling to Him” on the other. He still pits proposition against person.

What seems to be overlooked is the relational context of a disciple to a master. Jesus clearly gave himself the role of teacher (Matt 26:18; John 13:13). The first disciples were given the mission to “teach everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). That’s why the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).

Granted we must relate to Christ as Shepherd and Christ as Bridegroom. But we must also relate to Christ as Teacher. We must use everything we can (“including our formulas and bullet points”) to aide us in the “memorization of [all of Jesus’] ideas” because “clinging” to the Teacher demands no less. Consequently we cannot present the gospel divorced from a call to submit one’s “ideas” to Christ’s Lordship (2 Cor 10:5).

Again, as a corrective, Donald Miller’s point may be helpful. But we need to be clear that the ideas of the gospel and the Person of the gospel come together as a package deal. We can never hint that one might come without the other or that they are in any way opposed to one another.

13 March 2006

Statistics


Don’t trust statistics. They can be manipulated. They can present a complex situation so simply that they deceive. When it gets down to specifics, they are just plain untrustworthy.

However, every once in a while there is one that grabs you, one that is so drastic that it makes a point even when you build in all the caveats. I recently discovered one of these using my trusty BibleWorks 6.

Total number of words in the standard editions of the Hebrew and Greek testaments: 447,996

Total number of words in the NASB, the self-proclaimed “most literal” translation in English: 775,306.

To me, it looks like for every four original words the NASB has added nearly three more. Why? They do it to make the translation intelligible. The funny thing is that Young’s Literal Translation (which is so literal as to yield incorrect and unintelligible English pervasively) has even more words than the NASB (786,937).

Rendering one English word for every original word does not seem to be a real possibility. Don’t get me wrong: inspiration extends to the very words of the original autographs. But those autographs (and the copies which are leftover today) were written in three foreign (and/or dead) languages. These languages cannot be drawn up into precise mathematical equivalence with English. Article usage, case usage, mood usage have different ranges in each of them. The words themselves have different ranges. If strict formal equivalence is so nearly impossible to attain, perhaps we should be nice to people who are not quite so caught up with linguistic formalities, people, for instance, who use the NIV (726,109 words).

09 March 2006

Humility

Well, it's official. Yesterday I went to get my cap and gown measurements for graduation this May. At 7.75" diameter, I have the biggest head in my graduating class.

On an unrelated note, I’ve been working through Humility by C. J. Mahaney (Multnomah, 174 pgs.) and benefiting from it deeply. Here’s a good example of the tone, readability, and poignancy of the work:

In recent years a couple of popular historians, whose writings I’ve enjoyed, were accused of plagiarism in their works. When I saw the reports of it, my initial reaction was to think, How could they? Why would they? But as I reflected on this, I am reminded that every time I claim to be the “author” in my life and ministry of that which is actually God’s gift, I’m committing cosmic plagiarism. And that’s far more serious than any alleged misconduct by those two historians (p. 80).

1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

07 March 2006

Well, Then, Lutheran It Is.

As you might have guessed, I have been reading Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr. The configurations he suggests are insightful. Interestingly one's position on the issue is often rooted in Trinitarian and bibliological concerns. If Christ is the Son of God, the Creator of all nature, and if the Scriptures are the Word of the same God a strict "Christ against Culture" paradigm seems destined to self-contradiction and failure. Yet the content of the Word as well as the life and teachings of Christ keep us from strictly uniting Christ and Culture. Hence "the median types" of configuring Christ and culture: Christ above culture (synthetic or architectonic; e.g. Aquinas), Christ and culture in paradox (dualistic or oscillatory; e.g. Luther), and Christ reforms Culture (conversionist; e.g. Calvin).

Because I reserve Christ's final reformation of culture for the eschaton, I end up (with most historic Baptists) in an oscillatory position (at least that's what I think today). Most Americans know this position as "separation of church and state," but it is really an entire philosophy of life and ministry. The arts, the sciences, philosophy, and politics are all areas in which Christians must express their worldview to the extent that they have contact with these areas. God invented these things and the world organized against God audaciously uses them against Him. Only the Christian uses them legitimately. However the mission of the church is distinct from these areas. The Christian mission is a self-perpetuating call to follow Christ, a call to apostatize from the world system and become a pilgrim.

How exactly that plays out I am still thinking through. There are still tensions here that I have to work out, but this is where I am so far.

03 March 2006

Quote of the Day

Quote of the day (from H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, p. xlix):

The distinction between the median types arises from the variations in their methods of combining the disparate elements in Christian ethics. Three main groups seem distinguishable—the synthesists, the dualists, and the conversionists; but since ‘synthesis’ and ‘dualism’ are big words, we may indicate the types more accurately by naming them architectonic, oscillatory, and conversionist.

Uhh…ok.

01 March 2006

Some Weekend Finds

Over the weekend I spotted sites that I might find helpful. Perhaps you could use them too.

Three theologues from my alma mater (whether they can spell it or not :P): Baylor, Mihelis, and Bruno (not to mention Barker, whose blog I found out about a few weeks ago).

See also the Comstock Lode of Blogging Christian Scholars (though somewhat dated).

Here's a site for all my fellow Hebrew nuts out there: Daily Hebrew Reading

What treasures a little surfing can turn up! I'll venture that this post may be my most profitable contribution to the blogosphere.