13 October 2006

The Way I See It #169


Life’s too short to read a book you don’t love. At age 50 or younger give a book 50 pages to see if you like it. Over 50, subtract your age from 100 and that’s the number of pages to read before you bail on a book you’re not enjoying. And
when you turn 100, you get to judge a book by its cover! --Nancy Pearl (Librarian and author of Book Lust)
I don’t really believe a librarian is thinking about the way these words could be taken. Aren’t you glad your teachers didn’t have this philosophy in high school and college? Think of how bland and stupid you would be if you never read books that made you sleepy, books that made you angry, or books that made your head ache with bewilderment.
Let’s consider where this "read only what you like" way of thinking leads—Here is a perspective on life which is determined to live by the darkness of one’s own mind. These are ears which itch to hear only the echo of the emptiness between them. These are hearts which are hardened in their foolishness. These are necks which will bend only to the cruelest of masters: sin and death.
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.--Proverbs 2:1–8.

11 October 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Little Things That Kill

Ol' Sam RutherfordThis morning I was reading about the way the Puritans handled what the Anglican church called adiaphora, matters indifferent. Iain Murray’s notes here struck a chord.

[The Puritans] regarded their [Anglican] opponents’ habit of discriminating between essentials and nonessentials as a dangerous procedure. Dangerous, not because it claimed to exalt Christ and the Gospel to the supreme place, but because it failed to emphasize that the New Testament offers no safety to those who knowingly neglect the least of Christ’s commandments.
Samuel Rutherford says: “We urge the immutability of Christ’s laws, as well in the smallest as greatest things, though the commandments of Christ be greater or less in regard to the intrinsical matter, as to use water in baptism, or to baptize is less than to preach Christ, and believe in him, 1 Cor 1:17. Yet they are both alike great, in regard of the authority of Christ the Commander, Matt. 28:18–19. And it’s too great boldness to alter any commandment of Christ for the smallness of the matter, for it lieth upon our conscience not because it is a greater or a lesser thing…but it teeth us for the authority of the law-giver: Now God’s authority is the same when he saith, You shall not worship false gods, and when he saith, You shall not add of your own ring or pin to the Ark, Tabernacle, Temple [Exod 25:9; Deut 4:2?], yea, either to break or teach others to break one of the least of the commandments of God, maketh men the least in the Kingdom of God, Matt. 5:18…. The fact that a man may be defective in knowledge and practice, and yet be saved through being on the foundation which is Christ, provides no warrant for dividing up Scipture into essentials and nonessentials—placing rules concerning the visible church in the second category, as though they could be safely left unkept (“Scripture and 'Things Indifferent,'” in Puritan Papers, vol. 3, pp. 28–29).

09 October 2006


Think. Think. Think.I'm working through some scheduling issues taking some time to think through future blog content. I hope to return to blogdom when realdom stops spinning uncontrollably.

22 September 2006

Evaluating the Christ of Culture View

Are you my Jesus?Two glaring problems exist in the Christ of Culture view.

First, Christ of Culture views tend to downplay the need for special revelation and overplay the content and efficacy of general revelation. Human reason (especially as dictated by the prevailing sensibilities of the day, e.g. Platonism for the Gnostics and Enlightenment philosophy for Liberals) determines what parts of Scripture are accurate and authoritative. Niebuhr, whose view of the accuracy of the Scriptures is not substantively different from that of these liberals, still clinches the problem of authority found in the Christ of culture view: “Loyalty to contemporary culture has so far qualified the loyalty to Christ that he has been abandoned in favor of an idol called by his name.” These “cultural Christians” emphasize whatever part of Christ’s message agrees with reason (read: common sentiment). At all costs they strive to lose the offense of the gospel. In the end, they deny the gospel itself and never quite assuage the world’s objections.

Second, my recent comments about the pervasiveness of depravity fit here as well. In this case, however, the problem is not only the denial of depravity within the Christian community, but the denial of depravity altogether. All of human civilization maybe accepted as good and from God as Creator. He is the father of all humans, and therefore, everything they make is good. On this view, all of culture is good and can only stand to get better. But the Scriptures are, if possible, even clearer on universal total depravity then they are concerning continuing depravity in the lives of the regenerate.

Both Old and New Testaments explicitly vitiate the denial of universal depravity. For instance, Solomon candidly admits, “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kgs 8:46). The familiar NT verse, Romans 3:23, also shows it, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

20 September 2006

Westminster Wednesday—What Is Worship?

WAR!I discovered this summer just how controversial the topic of worship really is when I attempted to record a few of my opinions about the relationship between aesthetics and ethics. I actually got a few comments! But our current worship wars (and the culture wars behind them) are not without historical precedent. The Puritans waged war (at times literally) against the established church on this very matter. I think their starting point, specifically their definition of worship, in the debate ought to be held in common by all sides of the debate today. I love especially the John Owen quote (italics mine).

These problems [i.e., areas of disagreement] concerned the forms and externals of worship only, and our present interest is rather in the reality of worship, as the Puritans understood it. Here, wherever else they differed, they were at one, and the written material they have left us is completely homogeneous…. What is worship? It is, says John Owen, an activity designed to “raise unto God a revenue of glory out of the creation.” In the broadest sense of the word, all true piety is worship. “Godliness is a worship,” wrote Swinnock. “Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker…. It is the tribute which we pay to the King of Kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him…. All that inward reverence and respect, all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word (sc., godliness) enjoineth, is included in this one word worship.” Usually, however, the Puritans used the word in its narrower and more common sense, to signify all our communion with God: invocation, adoration, meditation, praise, prayer, and the receiving of instruction from His word, both in public and in private (J. I. Packer, “The Puritan Approach to Worship,” The Puritan Papers, vol. 3, p. 9).

18 September 2006

Christ of Culture

Socrates and Jesus: What's the diff?At the opposite side of the spectrum from the Christ against Culture view, Niebuhr outlines the view he calls “Christ of Culture.” This view understands the Christ who is recorded in the Gospels to be the author of human civilization. The claims of Christ are neatly equated with the best humans have to offer. (As we will see later, “best” is evaluated according to the ethics of the zeitgeist.)

Three historical examples elucidate. Niebuhr understands the Gnostics of the 2nd century and Peter Abelard of the 12th century to represent this view historically. As he notes of the former, “what they sought to do was to reconcile the gospel with the science and philosophy of their time.” Abelard wrote, “We find the way of life of the pagan philosophers [specifically Socrates and Plato], as much as their teaching, expresses evangelical and apostolic perfection very strongly indeed; they differ from the Christian religion in nothing or very little.” At the turn of the twentieth century, Protestantism was plagued by the same mode of thinking. Liberalism incorporated all the discoveries, methodologies, and presuppositions of the Enlightenment and Industrial Ages into their interpretation and evaluation of the Scriptures. The result was a denial of almost every basic doctrine in the Scriptures, except for the existence of God himself.

The mission of believers, under the Christ of Culture framework, is to accentuate what is good in society. There is no real message of depravity and redemption. There is only a message of personal responsibility and social improvement. Therefore proclamation entails an exposition of the new law of Christ as understood by the prevailing ethical sentiment of the day. Social work and improvement (again the standard of improvement is the spirit of the times) is central to the believer’s obligation, and the gospel ministry is indistinguishable from the obligation to improve society.

15 September 2006

Evaluating the Christ Against Culture View (2)

Civilization Through Tunnel VisionAs we have seen, the Christ against Culture view interprets the call to separate from the world in ways that contradict the Great Commission and other Biblical obligations to the outside world. The underlying problem here is a sad case of tunnel vision.

What is apparent on the surface of things is that this view assumes that holiness entails physical separation from civilization. For instance, among the Amish, while ideas like Hochmut (pride) and Demut (humility) are emphasized, these heart conditions are irrevocably tied up with specific external expressions. The association is so strong that one may actually be arrogant about his humility, that is, spiritually haughty about his externally self-humiliating practices. Paul seems to address this very idea when he denounced the Colossian heresy, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col 2:23). So a commendable desire for holiness becomes a grotesque display of arrogance because holiness is reduced to observing certain external taboos.

Beneath the surface is a failure to acknowledge pervasive depravity. It is ironic that the type of Christ-culture answer that is so keenly aware of the pervasive corruption due to sin in human civilization appears theologically oblivious to a continuing sin problem in the life of the reconstituted community. But if they realized the depth of their problem, they would also realize the helplessness of this solution.

To sum up the evaluation then, the Christ against Culture view recognizes the pervasive problem of sin in civilization, but it fails to fully understand it. In striving “to leave this world,” they have not only failed to solve the problem of sin, they have aggravated it by neglecting clear commands of Christ to be salt and light in front of a watching world.

14 September 2006

Ambiguously Cured

This is a good reason to remember that all counseling (especially self-confrontation) must be gospel-centered. We must blaze a spotlight on sin's deadliness and its "double cure," pardon and freedom through Jesus.

13 September 2006

Westminster Wednesday—A “Deepening Sense of Sin”

Every once in a while, I am surprised by just how biblical the Puritans were.

The Puritans seldom concerned themselves with the moment, real or imagined, of a man’s turning to God; they were more concerned with a man’s present state. This does not mean, of course that they were indifferent to the question of conversion, it means rather that they realised clearly that a true conversion will be shown by its fruit, and they looked for that fruit as evidence that a work of grace had taken place in the man’s heart. If this work of grace had taken place then, they said, one great overriding result would follow, that is, the man would have a deep and continually deepening sense of sin. And they resolutely refused to offer any comfort unless they were convinced that a real sense of sin was present. Thus “the conscience is not to be healed if it be not wounded. Thou preachest and pressest the law, comminations, the judgment to come, and that with much earnestness and importunity. He which hears, if he be not terrified, if he be not troubled, is not to be comforted” [Augustine?]. Or again, says Perkins, “First of all a man must have knowledge of four things, of the law of God, of sin against the law, of the guilt of sin, and of the judgment of God against sin, which is eternal wrath.” Or again “never any of God’s children,” says Greenham, “were comforted thoroughly, but they were first humbled for their sins” (G. A. Hemming, “The Puritans’ Dealings with Troubled Souls,” in The Puritan Papers, vol. 1, p. 32).

I found this approach strikingly parallel to that of John in his first epistle. There too the first mark of perseverance is confession of sin, for ”if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

12 September 2006

Adrian's Blog: PROVERBS - Are Bloggers Scoffers?

Here's an important and biblical warning for bloggers.

11 September 2006

Evaluating the Christ Against Culture View

Amish kids--hating father and mother?As we have already seen, none of the five schools of thought that Niebuhr devised existed perfectly in history. We have to keep this caveat in mind while we quickly critique each view. I am simplifying broad issues into a few hundred words, and, at times, oversimplification is nearly inevitable. Nevertheless, I find it helpful to critique an extreme manifestation of this position (the Amish) in order to bring out the logical tendency of all positions like it. I’ll point out two points of critique today and round out the week with a third.

First, the Christ against Culture view fails to recognize that the radical statements of Christ (e.g., “hate father and mother”) must be related to the demands of God elsewhere in the Scripture. The demands of Christ are an expression of the universal, overarching moral law of God. Eventually, I’ll show more explicitly that God has expectations for believers with respect to family, to government, to science and technology, and to art. These expectations must be compatible with the demands of Christ and vice versa. No view which places these sides in ultimate contradiction with each other is tenable.

Second, this view often fails to take into account one of the clearest commands of Christ in the Scriptures: the command to make disciples (Matt 28:19)! For instance, Elmer L. Smith points out that the Amish understand Paul’s injunction to be separate from unbelief (2 Cor 6:17) in such a way as to invalidate Paul’s own commission to the Gentiles! Paul explicitly denounces this interpretation of his words in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world” (1 Cor 5:9–10).

08 September 2006

Christ Against Culture

Want an Amish Paradise? It'll cost ya.The first type of answer to the question of Christ and Culture is a configuration which presents mutual exclusivity between the demands of Jesus and the demands of the world. The ancient historical example for this type is Tertullian who is famed for denouncing all of Greco-Roman culture with broad rhetoric like, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Or the academy with the church?”

A modern expression of this type may be found in the Amish communities. These communities are perhaps most well-known for their rejection of technological advancement, but they refuse to embrace other aspects of the predominant civilization as well. With relation to the state, they will hold no public office. They will not join the military; nor will they accept any government aid such as social security. While some of these communities have allowed a craft trade for subsistence, others view even this meager artistic expression as an opportunity for pride. The height of their separation from culture is seen in the fact that the Amish refuse even to even speak the same language as their surrounding culture. Wikipedia provides documentation.

In this understanding, the believer is obligated to escape his culture and reconstitute a new culture based on radical obedience to Christ’s commands. Every part of civilization, from technological advancement to orderly governmental rule, from artistic expression to scientific discovery, is viewed with at best with suspicion, disdain, and indignation. The call of God to be separate from the world disallows any sustained contact with people outside the believing community.

We will get to some legitimate criticisms of this view in my next post. But I think that we can be too hasty in criticizing this approach and forget our pilgrim status in this age.

“Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Cor 6:17).

07 September 2006

Pyramids in the Ukraine?

Maybe I'm just a geek, but I found this very interesting.

06 September 2006

Westminster Wednesday—Who Has Full Assurance?

I am reading an essay by Packer on assurance in Puritan thought. What I found there surprised me. It also explained the wording of the Westminster Confession when it says that “infallible assurance” is possible. I am hesitant to say anyone’s assurance is really “infallible” because the warning passages of Scripture make grievous self-deception an ever-present possibility. But I am open to learning more from my Puritan teachers. This paragraph explains that the Westminster Confession was not saying that “infallible assurance” is commonplace; quite the contrary, the Westminster divines would have thought it comparatively rare among believers.

It is evident that “assurance” to the Puritan was something quite other than the “assurance” commonly given to the convert of five minutes’ standing in the enquiry room. (“You believe that John 1:12 is true? You have ‘received Him’? Then you are a son of God.”) The Puritans would not have called mere assent to such an inference, assurance at all. Professions of faith must be tested before they may be trusted, even by those who make them, and assurance, to the Puritan, was in any case more than a bare human inference; it was a God-given conviction of one’s standing in grace, stamped on the mind and heart by the Spirit…. The young convert’s position is really this: As he believes and obeys, he will know a measure of peace and joy, for real believing at once brings real comfort…; he may think and hope, and with some warrant, that he is a child of God, but he cannot say, in the unqualified sense of John’s first Epistle, that he knows his sonship until the Spirit sets this certainty home on his heart. Till the Spirit does so, in the Puritan sense, at any rate, he lacks assurance; which, said the Puritans, seems to be the case of most Christian people (“The Witness of the Spirit: The Puritan Teaching,” The Puritan Papers, vol. 1, p. 21).

04 September 2006

Repenting of Pride

Still got time to repent?A few years ago I was speaking with a distant relative who is a pastor. I’m not sure exactly what brought us around to the topic of eternal security, but for some reason he asked me if I believed it. Now I have serious objections against those who hold to a doctrine of eternal security which is not part of a doctrine of perseverance, as last Wednesday’s post should make clear. Apparently these same objections forced this pastor to conclude that the doctrine of eternal security was only a license to sin and a reason for unbelievers to delay repentance. To prove his point against the eternal security position, the pastor pointed out that he could be certain that the pretribulation rapture position was correct because it does not give unbelievers a reason to delay repentance. In his mind, all the other rapture positions did give men a false sense of security, so the pretribulation position must be right. I thought that this was an interesting, if not altogether determinative, way of proving his point.

Although, I am not nearly clever enough to think of this on the spot, I realize now I might have turned this argument on its head. I could have made it an argument for the doctrines of grace. I should have told him that one sin that God hates intensely is the sin of pride, and one sin that man always embraces, given the opportunity, is pride. In the Arminian way of looking at things, believers have one good thing to their credit, one good thing they did without God’s effective help: they believed. “The Arminian system allows men to delay turning from their pride,” I should have said. But if God determines to save us, despite our hatred of him and ill-desert, if he makes us holy and brings us to glory, then we must repent of pride and praise him.

01 September 2006

Five Answers to the Christ and Culture Question

Five answers: Read 'em and weep.Now that we have a modicum of understanding of Niebuhr’s theological grid, we may summarize the historical categories he developed to answer the Christ and Culture question. One of the interesting things about these categories is that Niebuhr admits that no historical characters are perfect matches for the types that he describes. He gives historical examples of each type, but readily admits that the examples that he gives do not fit precisely into his categorization.

Some have criticized this approach, and they make some valid points. But the approach has the advantages not only of admitting that history is messy business but also of remembering that there is some order to it all. Those who have undertaken advanced studies in any field know that nobody in academia dots their Is or crosses Ts the same way. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t schools of thought within each field. Though very few would match up with the majority position on every detail, there is still a majority position on every detail. And that’s where Niebuhr attempts to put the weight of his explanation. He tries to divide the most influential Christian theologians into five separate schools of thought with respect to this question.

With these caveats in mind, we may proceed to survey the five typical answers the historical church has given to the question, “How do the claims of Christ and the claims of culture relate to each other?” When he categorized these five answers the church has given Niebuhr was trying to place them on a basic continuum between obligations to Christ on one side and obligations to culture on the other: Christ against Culture (e.g. Tertullian, Anabaptists), Christ and Culture in Paradox (e.g. Luther, Kierkegaard), Christ transforms Culture (e.g. Calvin, Niebuhr), Christ above Culture (e.g. Aquinas, modern Catholics), and Christ of Culture (e.g. Peter Abelard, thorough-going modernists).

30 August 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Election Is Not a Cause for Carelessness

Iain Murray brings up an objection that is commonly given to the doctrine of election: If God chooses persons to grace without consideration of their faith and good works and infallibly brings his chosen to eternal bliss, is not then the doctrine of election a cause for carelessness? The Puritans, according to Murray, answer with a resounding “No!”

God has not only ordained the persons who shall be saved, but He also ordained the means—namely faith, sanctification, and holiness. Now the only way any soul may know God’s secret will, namely his election, is by so diligently applying himself to the means of grace and striving after holiness. Only by obedience to the duties of God’s revealed will may anyone know his election. “As Dr. Preston says, if a man does not use those means that may evidence to his soul that he is elected, it is an argument he is not elected. If thou say, if God hath determined it, he will save me, whether I am holy or profane, and therefore I will never hear sermon, never pray in my family, never use holy duties; says Preston, if thou neglect these means, it as an argument thou art not elected…At that very instant wherein God did decree or determine to bring a man to life, at that very instant God did decree that that man would be holy before he died; he shall use all holy and sanctified means conducible to his salvation. Romans 8:29. Whome he did predestinate, them he did predestinate to be conformable to the image of his Son” (Christopher Love, Treatise on Calling & Election, pp. 197–98). So that rather than making men careless nothing could make men more serious and earnest than this doctrine (“The Puritans and the Doctrine of Election,” The Puritan Papers, vol. 1, p. 12).

28 August 2006

Niebuhr’s Presuppositions 2

No Last Judgment?As we discovered Friday, Niebuhr could have been classified as a liberal Trinitarian and a postmillennial universalist. Because I am a firm believer in the Kabbalahic mystery number, 320, I was only able to address his liberal (modernistic) view of Scripture.

By Trinitarian, I mean that Niebuhr would have agreed that, in some sense, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both God and distinct persons from the Father. This relationship was significant for Niebuhr because, if Jesus and God the Father are eternally related to each other as God, then the demands of Christ and the demands of the Creator cannot be in ultimate conflict. For instance, Christ’s command to hate father and mother (Luke 14:26) must be in some way compatible with God’s command to honor father and mother (Exod 20:12) because the Son cannot be in ultimate conflict with the Father.

Niebuhr’s postmillennialism was made clear in his preference for the “Christ Transforming Culture” viewpoint. He believed that Christ’s teachings would eventually prevail in every individual life and in all societies worldwide. Niebuhr claimed Augustine and Calvin as early proponents of his own view, but he faulted them for not taking their philosophy of history far enough. This criticism is where his universalism came into full view. Niebuhr saw Christ transforming all of culture, not through eschatological judgment and establishment of a just kingdom, but through gradual diminution of evil in every person (human and angelic) and in every society. Any judgment is interpreted as remedial, not as penal.

This is not to say Niebuhr did not acknowledge human depravity. He was sympathetic with Calvin and Augustine’s understanding of depravity, but his view of the solution to that problem sharply opposed their own. Eternal punishment was the just solution in Augustine’s and Calvin’s understanding (as much as in Luther’s), but Niebuhr was not satisfied with this solution. Only transformation would do.

25 August 2006

Niebuhr’s Presuppositions 1

“How should a Christian view his obligations to society?” As I said before, we are going to use the seminal work of Richard Niebuhr, The Cross of Christ. Niebuhr’s five classifications are exceptionally valuable for understanding the different ways the church has typically understood its obligation to culture. However, substantially harmful presuppositions often colored Niebuhr’s analysis of church history.

So I’ll get to a description of Niebuhr’s five historical types very soon, but first it will be helpful to understand something of Niebuhr’s background. To state it briefly, Niebuhr is a liberal Trinitarian, and a postmillennial universalist. But I’ll only get to the “liberal” part today.

As far as the Scriptures are concerned, Niebuhr evidently took a basically liberal stance. Instead of submitting to the authoritative truth claims of the Scriptures, Niebuhr believes each author of Scripture was communicating merely his own understanding of his relationship with God or Christ. He does not understand each author to have communicated God’s truth infallibly. This assumption is nowhere more obvious than when Niebuhr places the different authors of Scripture into different historical categories: each contradicting the others. The idea of a revealed, inerrant, coherent book the very words and authority of which originated in the mind of God himself is out of the question.

As a result of his low view of Scripture, Niebuhr lacks attention to how the various groups understood the Scriptures as a whole. He focuses narrowly on the commands of Jesus as they relate to culture, but he does not adequately treat their view of the authority of the Scriptures as a whole. If he would have taken this category into more thorough consideration, he may have placed Luther and Calvin in closer relation to each other, and he would have placed himself in a camp separate from each of them.

23 August 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Election Is in Relation to Christ

Iain Murray won the honor of having his essay on election first in a collection of essays on Puritans. In quoting Thomas Goodwin at length, he highlights the precious link between the doctrine of election and the gospel itself.

Election is in relation to Christ. Now this truth lay at the very heart of their doctrine of election and determined every other part of gospel truth. God, says the apostle Paul, “hath chosen us in Him [in Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). “His first choice of us was a founding us on Christ,” comments Goodwin on this verse, “and in and together with choosing us, a setting us into him, so as then to be represented by him. So that now we are to run the same fortune, if I may so spek, with Christ himself for ever, our persons being made mystically one with his, and he a Common Person to us in election. Other men, as likewise the angels that fell, were ordained to be in themselves,—to stand or fall by themselves…But we were considered in Christ from the first, and therefore, though we fall, we shall rise again in him and by him for he is a Common Person for us, and to stand for us, and is for ever to look to us, to bring us to all that God ordained us unto and so this foundation remains sure. We are chosen in Christ, and therefore are in as sure a condition, as for final perishing, as Christ himself…Remember election is unto this great privilege, to be in Christ, and one with him (of all the highest, and fundamental to all other)” (Goodwin’s Works, 1:76–77, Nichols).

It is not until we understand this point that we will see why the Puritans regarded a denial of the doctrine of election as an overthrow of the whole nature of the gospel. The great glory of the New Covenant is that God should carry out both His part and ours, and He does this by committing the elect to the care of Christ, by whom they are given all saving graces. (Iain Murray, Puritan Papers, vol. 1, pp 8–9).

21 August 2006

The One Book Meme

Gaah! Bothersome memes--I've been tagged. Book links provided in association with Amazon.

1. One book that changed your life: Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper (my first Piper book)

2. One book that you've read more than once: Pleasures of God, John Piper

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Is it ok if I bring both volumes and a magnifying glass?)

4. One book that made you laugh: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

5. One book that made you cry: The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien

6. One book you wish had been written: Why I Became a Baptist, John Calvin--I suppose that would have been about as likely as Why I Became a Dispensationalist, Greg L. Bahnsen. *sigh*

7. One book you wish had never been written: What Love is This?, Dave Hunt.

8. One book you're currently reading: A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

9. One book you've been meaning to read: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling

10. Tag 5 others: Kevin, JMC and the Crew, Mo, Jay, and Peter.

17 August 2006

I'm On Vacation; Limited Internet Access

That is all.

11 August 2006

How Not to Do Exegesis

I saw this on AWAD and thought of you. Unfortunately, far too many conservative Christians think that this is the way to discern biblically God's will for their lives.

bibliomancy (BIB-lee-o-man-see) noun

Divination by interpreting a passage picked at random from a book, especially from a religious book such as the Bible. [From Greek biblio- (book) + -mancy (divination).]

If you are having a hard time deciding between turning groupie and following your favorite band around or to stay put in your accounting job, help is at hand. Try bibliomancy. Here's the step-by-step method:

1. Pick a book you trust a lot.
2. Put it on its spine, and let it fall open.
3. With your eyes closed, trace your finger to a passage.
4. Interpret the passage as your lifemap to the future.

You could even add more randomness to the process. To do that at the macro level, visit a library and pick a book at random from the shelves. At the micro level, instead of interpreting a passage, pick a single word and let it point you to your path.

09 August 2006

Westminster Wednesday: Concerning the Sabbath

Isn't every day the Lord's?Something I have been meaning to comment on regarding the Westminster Confession is the prescription of Sabbath observance:

WCF 21.8 This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
Evidently, the English Puritans held this understanding in opposition to the European Reformed tradition. For instance, Calvin's Geneva Catechism sings a slightly a different tune:
168. Does He thus forbid us all work one day a week?
This commandment has a particular reason, for the observance of rest is part of the ceremonies of the ancient Law, which was abolished at the coming of Jesus Christ. (See the rest of this section of the catechism here.)

My own understanding of the relationship between the Law and the believer differs in some ways from Calvin's, but on this point I am much closer to agreeing with Calvin than with the English Puritans.

03 August 2006

Pure Fallacy

I received this in my email box today. I have not researched this issue, nor do I intend to, but this seemed to me like blatant propaganda to unreasoning readers. It seems like a good example of how not to win a debate. It is targeted to eBay customers from the eBay CEO.

As you know, I almost never reach out to you personally with a request to get involved in a debate in the U.S. Congress. However, today I feel I must.

Right now, the telephone and cable companies in control of Internet access are trying to use their enormous political muscle to dramatically change the Internet. It might be hard to believe, but lawmakers in Washington are seriously debating whether consumers should be free to use the Internet as they want in the future.

Join me by clicking here -- http://www.ebaymainstreet.com/netneutrality -- to send a message to your representatives in Congress.

The phone and cable companies now control more than 95% of all Internet access. These large corporations are spending millions of dollars to promote legislation that would allow them to divide the Internet into a two-tiered system.

The top tier would be a "Pay-to-Play" high-speed toll-road restricted to only the largest companies that can afford to pay high fees for preferential access to the Net.

The bottom tier -- the slow lane -- would be what is left for everyone else. If the fast lane is the information "super-highway," the slow lane will operate more like a dirt road.

Today's Internet is an incredible open marketplace for goods, services, information and ideas. We can't give that up. A two-lane system will restrict innovation because start-ups and small companies -- the companies that can't afford the high fees -- will be unable to succeed, and we'll lose out on the jobs, creativity and inspiration that come with them.

The power belongs with Internet users, not the big phone and cable companies. Let's use that power to send as many messages as possible to our elected officials in Washington. Please join me by clicking here right now to send a message to your representatives in Congress before it is too late. You can make the difference.

Thank you for reading this note. I hope you'll make your voice heard today.

I have little interest in either the success of eBay or the success of cable and phone companies. Here's my beef:

(1) It uses ad hominem argumentation. "Big...companies" and "large corporations" need not be a term of slander, but it certainly carries bad connotations in this letter. Interestingly the ad hominem assumes that big companies are inherently bad and the enemy of the consumer.

(2) It makes no attempt to present the reasoning behind the other side of the issue in a way that the other side would agree with. Doesn't somebody's child depend on the money mommy makes at the phone company? Doesn't somebody want to put their kid through school on hard-earned money made at the phone company? No, of course not. They're all greedy scoundrels.

(3) It makes no attempt to make eBay's motives clear. Apparently the phone companies are greedy scoundrels, and eBay is our best friend looking out solely for our interests. Who knew? Why don't they "reach out to [me] personally" a little more often, if we're such good friends?

(4) It makes no attempt to explain in numerical or even practical terms the differences between the two services. It only serves to incite disdain for large companies who are forcing the reader onto a "dirt road" while they ride happily on the "super highway." Rhetoric like this may have its place in argumentation, but it must be grounded in stated facts. Otherwise it is simply loaded language.

(5) It makes way too many assumptions. (a) The letter assumes, without argumentation, that it is not the right of phone and cable service providers to provide services as they please for their own prosperity as companies.

(b) It assumes, without argumentation, that it is the right of the government to stop a company from offering its service to whom it pleases and in the manner it pleases for its own prosperity.

(c) It assumes, without argumentation, that it is my right to have the same type of internet access that rich companies do regardless of how much either of us are able to pay for the service.

(d) It assumes, as I have mentioned, that large companies are evil. (By the way, last I heard eBay was not a "start-up" or "small company.") The phrase, "large corporations" hints at monopoly and unfair business practices without having the guts to make the accusation and without presenting the evidence to substantiate it. The letter slanders large companies for trying to do the same thing eBay is supposed to be trying to do (and which they are probably trying to do illegitimately by pulling this very stunt): make money.

So don't be an unreasoning reader. Research the issue if you will; think about it if you will; give your support if you will. But don't do it because of this letter. The sole value of this letter is practice in identifying logical fallacies and unsubstantiated assumptions.

01 August 2006

To Church and Society

you MUST stop.Unfortunately, I've been experiencing some technical difficulties getting this post up, but now it's working.

The believer’s life is full of musts. Obligations to one’s spouse, children, church, school, work, extended family, and friends deplete most of his time. Most Christians find it helpful in fulfilling obligations consistently, contentedly, and correctly to understand the purpose (or theological framework) behind the obligations. It’s a lot easier to do the “got-to’s” right and with a good attitude when we understand something of the purpose behind the obligation. Even if the task is sheer obedience to the commands of our Creator and Redeemer, at least we know that much, and knowing that much helps. For instance, it is helpful, as the Christian husband walks out to the dumpster with trash bag in hand, to think about why it is theologically important to fulfill this obligatory waste disposal. It is helpful for him to think about how Christ created the earth to reflect the order which inheres in his being, about how he created humans to tend the earth, and how Christ himself became a man “not...to be served, but to serve” (Matt 20:28). Theological framework helps Christians fulfill daily obligations.

Bringing up this discussion is not meant to cheapen theology or make it ho-hum or blah. Instead, I feel that a theology’s depth is demonstrated in part by its ability to reach into all of life. Christian theology satisfies the rigor of the class room and debate hall, yes. But it also satisfies the demands of the marketplace and the home. It is the only worldview deep enough to pervade all of life.

So bringing up this discussion is meant to relate the Christian’s obligations to the church and to society by means of a theological framework. My method will be to survey the various theological frameworks which have been proposed (as they are summarized by the seminal work of H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture).

I plan to evaluate the basic viability of each framework and endeavor to take the most Biblical answer and modify or augment it with any unaddressed Biblical concerns.

28 July 2006

How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place

I haven’t done this for awhile, so I figure it’s about time. I heard this hymn for the first time on a recent Sunday, so I thought I would look it up and share.

How sweet and awesome is the place
with Christ within the doors,

While everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.

Here all the mercy of our God
with vast compassion rolls;

And peace and pardon through His blood,
is food for ransomed souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,

Each of us cries with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
and enter while there’s room;

When thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast,
that sweetly forced us in;

Else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;

Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
and bring lost sinners home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
that all thy chosen race

May with one voice and heart and soul
sing Thy redeeming grace.

Isaac Watts, 1674-1748. Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship (London: Wakeman Trust, 1991): 662.

26 July 2006

Westminster Wednesday—Amesian Hermeneutics

Professor Ames Clutches the Cash.I'll celebrate my 100th post by continuing in the same vein from Monday: hermeneutics. Literature on the topic of hermeneutics swelled in the late eighties and early nineties. We may be in somewhat of a reprieve, but it is still a very important topic to discuss and understand. One aspect of the topic which can sometimes be neglected is its theological history. For instance, what did our Puritan predecessors have to say about how one interprets the Bible? Sometimes the answer may be surprising; take, for example, Amesius.

William Haller, Puritan scholar, once said that Guilielmus Amesius (Eng., William Ames) was the “architect of Elizabethan Puritanism.” He conducted theological debates with many of the Remonstrants in Holland, and, apparently, thoroughly worked through his theology while doing so. Amesius’ Marrow of Theology was the standard text in Reformed schools for decades to come, especially in New England, where it had a profound influence on Edwards.

I found what Ames had to say on hermeneutics intriguing and helpful.

"There is only one meaning for every place in Scripture. Otherwise, the meaning of Scripture would not only be unclear and uncertain, but there would be no meaning at all -- for anything which does not mean one thing surely means nothing" (The Marrow of Theology. John Eusden, ed. Boston, p.188).

24 July 2006

Foundation for Hermeneutics

Foundations Hit the SpotI was reading David Instone-Brewer's book on the divorce-remarriage question, and I came across the following quote. He is calling attention to the similarities and dissimilarities between the way Jesus argued and the way his contemporary rabbis argued (as far as we can gather). However I think what he says here deserves attention for reasons outside the divorce-remarriage debate. It is something much more foundational he addresses.

First, he shows the axiomatic legitimacy of linguistic and historical research. Jesus could not have meant what he did not say, and he could not mean what he never meant.
Second, he reminds us that the Scriptures do not speak in code language. It speaks with all the diversity and intelligence of human language, but it is never some language other than human.

Ultimately, he gets at the heart of what inscripturated revelation really is--God speaking to humans through their own written languages so that he can be understood and obeyed.

Therefore, when Jesus used this same phrase in this same debate, it would be extraordinary to conclude that he meant something different. If we concluded this, we would have to declare that Jesus spoke a different language than that of his contemporaries, where words and phrases can mean different things when Jesus uses them. We would then have no basis for working out the meaning of lanything that he has said on any subject because he would be speaking a language that was totally unique, and any person's interpretation of his words would be as valid as anyone else's. However, if Jesus and the Gospel writers were trying to communicate eternal truths to their listeners and readers, they would presumably have used a language that was well known and understood, rather than a "sacred" langugage that had a secret interpretation. Therefore we must assume that when Jesus or the Gospel writers use the same phrase as their contemporaries, in the same context, they mean the same thing (p. 186-187).

21 July 2006

God, Maker and Savior of Humankind

Man: Made to Be King.The God-centeredness of God is the kind of concept that can enrapture a soul with its beauty. God doesn’t need his creation (Acts 17:25), and it is his over-flowing joy in his own character which produces his zeal to express his glory in creation. All of creation and providence centers on God’s zeal for his glory (Rom 11:36, Rev 4:11, Ps 115:3). It's a rock-hard cornerstone on which theology ought to be built.

But, as with all theological concepts, it must be defined according to the authoritative revelation we have from him. That's where some helpful nuancing comes in from Jollyblogger. God isn't God-centered in a way that makes humans insignificant. He makes the point that humans are made in God's image and that our Redeemer had to be human to effect redemption. Along the same lines, it is humans that God has given the job of ruling over creation (Ps 8); and it is a human, the first Adam, who ruined it. It will be a human, the second Adam, who will bring about its restoration.

Relatedly, this guy also reminds us that God's stated purpose in John 3:16 is to make salvation from hell available for humans. Now the latter fellow hints that he is not at all fond of the God-centeredness of God as a theological concept (though it springs irresistibly from the Scriptures), but his point about salvation from hell is well-taken. In significant ways, God's unfolding story of creation and providence, fall and restoration, has humans on center stage.

In the end, however, we must conclude that God's man-centeredness is a function of his God-centeredness. It is his image-bearers he loves in John 3:16, just as it is their worship he seeks in John 4. And that is why his wrath will burn forever against those who refuse to take joy in him (2 Thess 1:8-9).

Being human is great! Let us take joy in him who made us so.

19 July 2006

Westminster Wednesday: The Indomitable Puritans

Work, work, work.Because I am working my way through Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the ethos of hard work has been on my mind. In this paragraph, Packer summarizes the Puritans' compelling understanding on work and all of life. Both Rand and the Puritans condemned “laziness and passivity,” but Rand’s objectivism is vacuous at the very point that the Puritans shone with “inexhaustible inner strength.”

About the piety that was central to Puritanism we may generalize as follows. Four qualities stand out as showing its temper. The first is humility, the cultivated lowliness of a sinful creature who is always in the presence of a great and holy God, and can only live before him through being constantly pardoned. The second is receptivity, in the sense of openness to be taught, corrected, and directed by one’s discoveries in Scripture; plus willingness to be disciplined by the darkness of disappointment and inward desertion, as well as encouraged by happy providences; plus readiness to believe that the good hand of a faithful and gracious God, who is ripening his children for future glory, shapes it all, the rough no less than the smooth. The third is doxology, the passion to turn everything into worship and so to glorify God by all one’s words and deeds. The fourth is energy, the spiritual energy of the true Protestant work ethic whereby laziness and passivity are damned as irreligious, just because so much remains to be done before God’s name is hollowed in his world as it should be. That all four qualities are formed by the Puritan view of God, who he is and what he does, is obvious; that, together, they constitute a mind- and heart-set which, once formed, nothing can daunt or destroy is surely no less obvious. In the combination of these four qualities lay the secret of the Puritans’ indomitable and inexhaustible inner strength (A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p. 331).

17 July 2006

Edwards on Beauty

Tisk, tisk President Edwards. There's a Spot on your stole.Well, here we are dealing with the deep philosophical question of the connection between ethics and aesthetics. We are trying in all we do to have a Christian view of things. That is that we acknowledge that Christian theism (fearing Yahweh) precedes all true philosophy and science (knowledge). Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline."

On the one side, we emphasized that there is an ethical quality to aesthetics. That is, the commands in Scripture which entail cultivating creation assume not only a standard of efficiency, but also a standard of beauty. On the other hand, I think we can say that there is an aesthetic quailty to ethics.

To make the connection more clear, we could say that as beauty relates to our affections, so good or right relates to our volition. Beauty is what we ought to take pleasure in or love; good is what we ought to desire or choose. And those really don’t seem to be mutually exclusive categories, do they?

Edwards didn’t think so:

And as the exercises of the inclination and will of the soul are various in their kinds, so they are much more various in their degrees. There are some exercises of pleasedness or displeasedness, inclination or disinclination, wherein the soul is carried but a little beyond the state of indifference.--And there are other degrees above this, wherein the approbation or dislike, pleasedness or aversion, are stronger, wherein we may rise higher and higher, till the soul comes to act vigorously and sensibly, and the actings of the soul are with that strength, that (through the laws of the union which the Creator has fixed between the soul and the body) the motion of the blood and animal spirits begins to be sensibly altered; whence oftentimes arises some bodily sensation, especially about the heart and vitals, that are the fountain of the fluids of the body: from whence it comes to pass, that the mind, with regard to the exercises of this faculty, perhaps in all nations and ages, is called the heart. And it is to be noted, that they are these more vigorous and sensible exercises of this faculty that are called the affections.The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will, and inclination of the soul, but only in the liveliness and sensibleness of exercise.
Furthermore, as the affections are the summit of the volitions, he says, moral goodness is the summit of true beauty.
The true beauty and loveliness of all intelligent beings does primarily and most essentially consist in their moral excellency or holiness. Herein consists the loveliness of the angels, without which, with all their natural perfections, their strength, and their knowledge, they would have no more loveliness than devils. It is a moral excellency alone, that is in itself, and on its own account, the excellency of intelligent beings: it is this that gives beauty to, or rather is the beauty of their natural perfections and qualifications. Moral excellency is the excellency of natural excellencies.
Edwards connects aesthetics and ethics in Religious Affections much more ably than I can. So I’ll refer you to him for more specifics.The point is that aesthetics and ethics are tightly interwoven. Perhaps one could say that they are distinguishable but inseparable. As we saw Friday, God has commanded us to work hard for his glory, so there is an ethical quality to aesthetics. And "moral excellency is the excellency of natural excellencies," so there is an aesthetic quality to ethics.

14 July 2006

Classical Concerti, Computer Code, and the Kingdom

This was going to be just a comment, but I decided to promote it (more because it was long than because I liked it). I already have the next post written and it deals more thoroughly with the relationship between the categories of aesthetics and ethics.

As far as the Fine Arts are concerned, I think that the Biblical foundation for them is found in the fact that Adam and Eve were created to appreciate the beauty of God's creation. This may be implied by the fact that throughout the Scriptures, God's people actually do appreciate this beauty (Pss 8, 19 come immediately to mind). This appreciation first becomes explicit in the account of the fall where Eve sees that the forbidden fruit is "pleasing to the eyes" (Gen 3:6). God created humans with affections--the capacity to appreciate beauty.

God's creativity, as evidenced in that ideal world, provided the standard for man's creative expressions. Man's imagination was directed to think God's thoughts after him. Unfortunately both our ability to interpret God's world and the world itself suffer now from the effects of the fall. Without clear Scriptural guidelines, we are not able to be as precise and dogmatic about beauty as some may wish to be. However, that does not really concern me.

Here's why: I am very comfortable working on a laptop, the technology for which proceeds off of knowledge which is not gained immediately through the Scriptures. The Scriptures endow the Christian worldview with the only adequate explanation for science. Once that foundation has been laid, scientists, engineers, factory workers, and robots do their thing, and voila, I have a computer.

In a parallel way, the Scriptures endow the Christian worldview with the only adequate explanation for the fine arts. From there painters, playwrites, novelists, architects, musicians, actors, choreographers (maybe;), and film directors do their thing, and voila, I have art.

The Bible teaches us few of the particulars in computer chips or charcoals, html code or violin concerti. But it does give us the foundation for those things so that whatever our hands find to do we may do it Christianly as service to our Master.

How do these things relate to moral categories? They relate in that we are commanded to cultivate all of creation as God's vice-regents (Ps 8:5-7). They relate in that we ought to do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). They relate in that we are commanded to do everything as in submission to Christ as our Master, as Paul said to the Colossian slaves, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Col 3:23). I think these passages assume standards of efficiency and beauty. Specifically, they assume that believers are to strive to cultivate creation to reach the standard of beauty and efficiency seen in the pristine world and in the eschatological kingdom. If we have been given responsibility by God to cultivate creation, then that cultivation is a moral obligation.

Obviously, as a premillennialist, I see the goal as unattainable before Christ (himself responsible to cultivate creation as a human) sets up his earthly kingdom. At that time "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). However, as a premillennialist, I see Christ's future redemption of the created order as a vindication for the efforts of believers who now concern themselves with cultivating in creation the same efficiency and beauty Christ himself will bring when he comes.

12 July 2006

Westminster Wednesday—Authority and Idolatry

The discussion of aesthetics and ethics has, in large degree, come down to a question of authority. I make the claim that beauty comes with an attendant obligation for the observer to appreciate it. Beauty is there. Beauty is the standard for the affections of all people. It is what we ought to like because it is what God likes. Baylor has emphasized a counterpoint. Because the Scriptures are our only authority, he reasons, we cannot know what pleases God except as Scripture specifies. God has not chosen to reveal the standards for fine arts in the Scriptures, therefore those standards are irrelevant for the believer.

Though I disagree with his conclusion, I do not wish to downplay the starting point of his argument whatsoever. Sola Scriptura is the formal principle of the Reformation, and it is reflected throughout genuinely Reformed theology. The Westminster Larger Catechism is no exception (emphasis mine):

Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

Question 110: What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it? A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment. the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God's sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.

10 July 2006

Aesthetics and Ethics

Noah Webster: illicitly borrowing the Spot.The final point of discontinuity between myself and my commenters was the connection between aesthetics and ethics. I did assume the connection in my argument before, so I'll elaborate it a little more now.
Our goal here is to begin with God in all of our thinking, making him and his revelation the foundation for our thought so as to avoid foolishness. So we are not altogether methodologically sound when we start with a (standard but) secular dictionary's definition of aesthetics. We must simply remember that Merriam-Webster cannot be neutral in their discussion, and by ignoring God in the definition of beauty, they evidence not only a bankrupt definition of beauty but also a hatred for true beauty. However, despite their bankruptcy, I believe that M-W makes a(n illicitly borrowed but nonetheless) helpful predication about beauty. Namely, they associate aesthetics with pleasure. See for yourself.

1 plural but singular or plural in construction : a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty
2 : a particular theory or conception of beauty or art : a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight
3 plural : a pleasing appearance or effect :BEAUTY

The M-W definition of beauty is similarly associated with pleasure:

1 : the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit : LOVELINESS

But there is still something missing from the discussion. If we stopped here I think we would only have a foolish understanding of beauty. I think T. Robert Baylor has added the all-important missing ingredient to this understanding of aesthetics (emphasis mine):

I don't think that the use of aesthetic language necessarily implies a philosophical connection between morality and aesthetics; it seems more likely to me that the authors are borrowing aesthetic language to describe God's pleasure in proper ethical living.

Baylor notes that the authors of the Scriptures use "aesthetic language" because of "God's pleasure in ethical living." So I ask, what else could beauty be? Beauty, objectively considered, is what God takes pleasure in. In other words, God's affections define beauty. And because God is highest in his own affections, God is what Beauty is. The immense overlap between aesthetics and ethics should be becoming clear. Righteous actions please God because they conform to his nature which is the standard of beauty and highest in his affections. Beauty and good are united in him because his affections and character provide definition to both.

07 July 2006

Piper on Beauty

True Beauty? Not so much.This is a repost from last September. I'm not sure when I'm allowed to begin reposting, but I think this one is worth the airtime. The thoughts expressed in these four paragraphs from Let the Nations Be Glad! by John Piper have been prominent in my thoughts for the past few days weeks. In showing the beauty of ethnic diversity, Piper also points out a diversity in beauty which seems to have been neglected in some constructions of the Christian view of beauty.

"1. First, there is a beauty and power of praise that comes from unity in diversity that is greater than that which comes from unity alone. Psalm 96:3-4 connects the evangelizing of the peoples with the quality of praise that God deserves. 'Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.' Notice the word 'for.' The extraordinary greatness of the praise that the Lord should receive is the ground and impetus of our mission to the nations.

"I infer from this that the beauty and power of praise that will come to the Lord from the diversity of the nations are greater than the beauty and power that would come to him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturally uniform. The reason for this can be seen in the analogy of a choir. More depth and beauty is felt from a choir that sings in parts than from a choir that sings only in unison. Unity in diversity is more beautiful and more powerful than the unity of uniformity. This carries over to the untold differences that exist between the peoples of the world. When their diversity unites in worship to God, the beauty of their praise will echo the depth and greatness of God's beauty far more than if the redeemed were from only a few different groups.

"2. Second, the fame and greatness and worth of an object of beauty increases in proportion to the diversity of those who recognize its beauty. If a work of art is regarded as great among a small and likeminded group of people but not by anyone else, the art is probably not truly great. Its qualities are such that it does not appeal to the deep universals in our hearts but only to provincial biases. But if a work of art continues to win more and more admirers not only across cultures but also across decades and centuries, then its greatness is irresistibly manifested.

"Thus, when Paul says, 'Praise the Lord all you nations, and let all the peoples extol him' (Rom. 15:11, author's translation), he is saying that there is something about God that is so universally praiseworthy and so profoundly beautiful and so comprehensively worthy and so deeply satisfying that God will find passionate admireres in every diverse people group in the world. His true greatness will be manifest in the breadth of the diversity of those who perceive and cherish his beauty. His excellence will be shown to be higher and deeper than the parochial preferences that make us happy most of the time. His appeal will be to the deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul. Thus the diversity of the source of admiration will testify to his incomparable glory" (p. 198-199).

After reading through these paragraphs again, I am also delighted to see the balance Piper strikes here. He implies throughout a diversity in Christian beauty, but he does not allow that beauty is altogether a personal or cultural matter. The beauty of God is the objective standard; God appeals to the "deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul," while Mona Lisa, for example, may only appeal to the Western version of such capacities. God is what beauty is, and he has implanted "deep universals" in our constitution as image-bearers whereby we inevitably recognize this beauty at some level (though in our pervasive depravity we suppress and hate this beauty if left to ourselves).

06 July 2006

(True) Story Problem

Pittsley has a $2.00 overdue fine at the library because 8 books were overdue. The fine for one book is 3 times the fine for each of the other 7 books. How much is the fine for each book?

05 July 2006

Westminster Wednesday--The Covenant of Works

I am contemplating next semester's paper load, and I'm wondering about the covenant of works. My initial impression is that covenant theologians agree on the existence of a covenant with Adam, but they are not all on the same page as to its nature. There seems to be a continuum of opinions about just how much the covenant is works or merit-based versus grace-based. Some find in the covenant of works theological infrastructure for Christian ethics [btw, I will get back to ethics and aesthetics soon enough], and the imputation of Christ's righteousness is also related to this covenant.

As might be suspected the Larger Catechism is general enough on these points:

Q. 20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?

A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Q. 21. Did man continue in that estate wherein God at first created him?

A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.

Q. 22. Did all mankind fall in that first transgression?

A. The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.

Q. 23. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?

A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q. 24. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.

Q. 30. Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.

30 June 2006

The Christian and Music (3): On the Beauty of Coffee Tables

This Picture Has Been Removed.

So far, we have dealt with one of the two objections raised against the understanding that no thing is morally unaffiliated. The first objection, when laid out logically would read something like this:

Major Premise: Every non-ideal thing is a morally evil thing.

Minor Premise: Every impersonal thing is a non-ideal thing [due to the fall].

Conclusion: Therefore, every impersonal thing is a morally evil thing.

If the premises are true, the conclusion is logical enough. However, all we needed to do to refute the conclusion is take a closer look at the major premise. Is it true that unless something is in its ideal state, it is morally evil? I illustrated that the major premise is false and thereby avoided the conclusion.

The second question will be even more complex: Given the moral affiliation of all things, how does one distinguish between good things and bad things? I want get to an answer, and I count myself as one who learns while he writes and writes while he learns, so here’s what I got.

I need to start by making the right connection between beauty and morality. Because we are talking about impersonal things still, not about the words of a song, but about the notes and arrangement, I am going to use my coffee table as an example of an impersonal thing. Why? Well, because it was at hand while I was typing about it.

My coffee table is part of the universe that declares God’s glory. It is part of what makes not worshipping God reprehensible and inexcusable behavior. It is made up of molecules of wood and glass which would be astounding to observe. The spatial geometry involved (or assumed) in its construction is thoroughly fascinating. Its wood grain pattern (though commonplace) could be admired for days. Yet it suffers under the curse. It’s falling apart (despite my efforts to maintain it). It was scratched and marred by the previous owners and by us as well. It has seen better days.

As we have said, this non-ideal situation does not necessarily mean that my coffee table is morally evil. But here’s what it does mean: I would be perverse, even morally wrong, to love those things about my coffee table which are not ideal as if they were. As I said in the first post on this topic, it is always morally wrong to love as beautiful that which is ugly in God’s eyes.

Where in the world do I get an idea like that?

Good question. I should be very careful about saying something is “always morally wrong.” I could only conclude that from an absolute authority like, for starters, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

Here’s where we can park our analogies and get back to the discussion at hand. I think this is where the discussion of music must start. It must start with the conclusion that only excellent (that is, excellent from God's perspective) should be admired. Music is, by definition, an orderly arrangement of sounds. To the extent that it reflects God’s glory as part of God’s universe, we should love and appreciate it. However, to the extent that it does not match with God’s ideal for what human music should be, shall we say, to the extent that it is not beautiful, we should withhold our appreciation.

So at the very least we can conclude, music is not an “anything goes” thing for the Christian. An objective standard of beauty exists, and God expects honest evaluation and appraisal of our music according to that standard. “Should I enjoy this music?” is a legitimate question to ask, and sometimes the answer may be negative.

28 June 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Pervasive Theocentricity

Yup, janitors too.One of the hallmarks of Reformed Christianity is that it is religion for all of life. The civilized world thinks of religious piety as one (optional) aspect of good character, which in turn is one aspect of a good well-rounded person. The theology of the Reformation turns that world upside down. It makes robust biblical piety the foundation for all other parts of life. The professor and the mechanic, the scientist and the bus-driver, the painter and the kindergarten teacher only do their job well if they do it for the glory of God and in the name of Christ. It’s this pervasive theocentricity which I am trying to integrate into my discussion of music. It’s this religion for all of life which drives the following statements on Creation in the Confession.

Of Creation.
I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.
II. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness after his own image, having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Besides this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

26 June 2006

The Christian and Music (2): Everything Sin? I don't think so.

This guy thinks that everything's sin.Ok. I’m finally getting back to the discussion from two weeks ago that I started about the Christian and music. I’ll summarize the comment section for any newcomers. Two basic questions arose, and I have summarized them this way:

(1) If we are to agree that no thing is morally unaffiliated, how are we to determine what is evil and what is good?

(2) Assuming the morality of all things and the universal reach of the curse of the fall, how are we to avoid the conclusion that every thing is actually immoral?

I will take the second question first because the question of determining what is good and what is bad is dependent on the assumption that some things may actually be good.

Avoiding the conclusion to which Tim Barker alludes is important for a number of reasons. I have a vested interest in showing that all impersonal things are not intrinsically evil.

(1) Theologically, if all impersonal things are intrinsically evil, then it would be impossible for Paul to say that “since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). If creation is utterly evil, it cannot show forth God’s glory in a way that renders humans defenseless before his bar of judgment.

(2) Christologically, if all impersonal things are intrinsically evil, then the unfertilized egg of Mary was evil in her womb. The implications for the sinlessness of Christ are lethal.

(3) Eschatologically, if all impersonal things are intrinsically evil, then nothing in the universe has any hope of redemption or reconciliation. But the Scriptures are clear that the creation will be redeemed (Rom 8:18–21) and reconciled (Col 1:20).

There are probably other reasons that I am committed against saying that all impersonal things are morally evil, but these particularly important reasons come to mind. So how is it that I avoid this conclusion I so want to avoid? Well, let me argue by analogy with the practices of polygamy in the OT.

The analogy is inevitably flawed in that we are talking about impersonal things and polygamy is an activity of responsible persons. But there are some definite similarities as well, so bear with me. The teachings of Jesus are clear that God’s ideal for marriage is one man and one woman for life (Matt 19:5–6). However there are numerous examples of polygamy in the OT which escape without specific condemnation. In fact, look what God says when he is rebuking David for his sin with Bathsheba, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms” (2 Samuel 12:7-8, emphasis added). Polygamy was regulated, but it was not disallowed. Polygamy is not the ideal, but it was not (at least under the Mosaic code) morally evil in all cases.

Perhaps you see where I am going. The Fall introduced some complexities into the marriage relationship which strayed from the ideal. God administrates these complexities, disallowing some activities which completely destroy the ideal (e.g. homosexuality, adultery, etc.), and simply regulating others (e.g. polygamy). In the same way, the Fall introduced complexities into impersonal things. While Paul may say, on the one hand, that “God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,” he is also clear that the creation is in “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21), that is, it does not meet God’s ideal. But as we have seen that does not mean it is intrinsically evil.

So in my mind saying that there is no such thing as a morally unaffiliated thing does not necessarily lead me to conclude that the fall has rendered all things morally evil.

23 June 2006

Nettleton Slam-dunks It

Nettleton from MonergismoWe went over Asahel Nettleton in class the other day, and I thought this quote was irresistible. He is defending the Reformed (read: Christian) doctrine of depravity against Pelagian Taylorites (e.g. Charles G. Finney).

“There are many who think they see a great inconsistency in the preaching of ministers. ‘Ministers,’ they say, ‘contradict themselves—they say and unsay—they tell us to do, and then tell us we cannot do—they call upon sinners to believe and repent, and then tell them that faith and repentance are the gift of God—they call on them to come to Christ, and then tell them that they cannot come.’

That some do preach in this manner, cannot be denied. I well recollect an instance. A celebrated preacher, in one of his discourses used this language: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ In another discourse, this same preacher said: ‘No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’ Now, what think you, my hearers, of such preaching, and of such a preacher? What would you have said had you been present and heard Him? Would you have charged Him with contradicting himself? This preacher, you will remember, was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ! And, I have no doubt, that many ministers have followed his example, and been guilty of the same self-contradiction, if you call it such” (Bennet Tyler, Nettleton and His Labours, 216-17).

21 June 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Presbyterianism Today

Michael Bates makes some interesting points about PCA/PCUSA:

Nearly all of the Presbyterian Churches in Tulsa are a part of the PCUSA. Christ Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I usually describe it as the Bible-believing Presbyterian denomination (as opposed to the liberal mainline denomination).

While the PCA (which has its General Assembly this week) has its lively theological debates, they are well within the scope of the Westminster Confession, the historic standard of Presbyterian belief. There are 27 overtures on the agenda -- many dealing with presbytery boundaries and committee structure -- but the big theological issue at this year's GA will be whether the Federal Vision / Auburn Avenue / New Perspectives on Paul understanding of covenants and justification are within the bounds of PCA doctrine.

I know a lot of good, devout Christian folk who belong to PCUSA congregations, and there are PCUSA congregations that are, by and large, faithful to the Scriptures. When the northern and southern mainline churches reunited in the early '80s, there was a period in which congregations could withdraw and align with another denomination, without forfeiting their church buildings, which are owned by the denomination, not the individual congregation.

That grace period has long since ended. It would be a huge sacrifice for a congregation to leave the PCUSA, but the level of nonsense seems to grow year after year.

UPDATE: Here is the nonsense in the PCUSA to which he refers:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The divine Trinity — "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" — could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church's national assembly.