Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Songs for Christmas

With the wedding only a few days away, I've not much time for much. But I do just want to mention that, while I've had it a couple years now, I still have found immense joy this Yuletide season listening to Stevens' little collection. Each year, it seems, certain discs (of the five disc set) become new favorites and this year it's been the "Peace" volume that's really been doing it for me.

I happened to read some of the liner notes and was very impressed by Sufjan's insight and intent behind the project. Part of it reads as follows:
ChristmasWhat did the angels renounce in the wake of the shepherds' trepidation? "Have no fear," they petitioned with trumpet blasts and a garnish display of constellations. But that's like waving a gun in a bank lobby and demanding: "Everybody stay calm!" Music, of course, works much differently. The most discriminating of chord progressions can disarm the most arrogant of men, including myself. Christmas music does this to the highest degree. It intersects a supernatural phenomenon (the incarnation of God) with the sentimental mush of our mortal lives (presents, toys, Christmas tree ornaments, snow globes, cranberry sauce), leaving in its pathological wake a particular state of mind one can only describe as "that warm, fuzzy feeling." Was this what I was after? The search for existential significance in all that sentimental oatmeal? Perhaps, but I'm not so certain that "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells" can be used as an exegesis for the big questions in life.

Or can they? I decided to find out, continuing the tradition year after year, plummeting into the abysmal canon of Yuletide carols, strumming the banjo, shaking the bells, tipping my Santa hat to Saint Nick, all the while assembling a ramshackle mix tape of Christmas "hits" (sometimes adding my own originals), wondering "What does it really mean to deck the halls with boughs of holly?" ...At the very least, I discovered that sleigh bells are, in fact, difficult to play well (there is a technique to these kinds of things), and that Christmas music poses a cosmological conundrum in requiring us to sing so sweetly and sentimentally about something so terrifying and tragic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's Good to be Greek

If Jesus died for the Mississippians, then he died for their brains too. [source]
Here, here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lord, in your mercy, Hear Our Prayer

Save us from our "piety," from our neverending, clever complaining of our own wretchedness. Lord turn our hearts away from that wicked self-absorption masked as "contrition." Give us instead, hearts of joy, hearts of belief - that is, give us faith. Give us the strength to be more certain of the Gospel than of trifle occasions past. Give us eyes that believe the future more strongly than we believe the present and the past. Give us eschatological eyes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Engagement Photos

Linkedy link.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Redeeming Poythress

I may have jumped the gun in evaluating Dr. Poythress. It's not all Van Tillian re-hash. Found this article: link. Based on a couple scans, it looks fairly promising.
Mathematics is the rhyme of the universe. [source]
Maybe I'll make my students read and review it for extra credit.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All the Things Left Undone

Today was hardly what I would call an "excellent" day at work - nonetheless, I still feel increasingly competent and confident in my role as a teacher. Current frustrations have more to do with the fact that I've been getting increasingly sick over the past few days and less to do with my lack of experience. When I get back to full strength, you might say that "such and such" will occur, and it will be followed by "taking names."

Seriously, I've been obsessively thinking about how to set this class up to make it worth going to. For starters, I need a much deeper understanding of mathematics. I can't take the students any deeper than I've already gone. But also, I'd like some non-textbook material to share with the kids, even something lite, like say a collection of pithy philosophical quotes about math. And yet, I know not where to find such material. The closest I've come is some Vern Poythress articles on the subject, but those are too obviously "Van Til goes to math class" for my liking, complete with rants against Kantianism and plentiful allusions to the rationalist-irrationalist dialectic. I need something with a less apologetic flair. Something more... classical.

One of the most influential courses in my life was a sixth grade course in which I would spend the first five minutes of class each day transcribing and meditating on a quote from Marcus Aurelius or Plato or Aristotle or some of the Pre-Socratics. Potent stuff, that, for a group of twelve-year-olds. But the scope and depth of my reading of everything, let alone ancient writings on mathematics, is so thin, so shallow, that I don't even know where to start. Perhaps meditations of my own would suffice. I'm not sure. There is always Holy Scripture, but that, that is a sticky widget isn't it? We may start with Augustine.

There is more: How will I seat them? Presently, lacking better descriptors, my students sit arena style, focused on me and the board. How can I lead them away from seeing me as the C.E.O. of Pre-Algebra studies, and guide them towards a self-guided mathematical discovery of their own? The thoughts are churning, my friends, but I've yet to chart the proper course. Know this, though: never ever did I picture myself taking this job so seriously. I'm glad for it. I kind of have a purpose or something. My most pressing and present goal is simply not to get fired, but as I begin to let my guard down, whatever speck of creativity I have may begin to flourish.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Truth Be Told

It is secretly my plan to, over the next few years, develop my Pre-Algebra curriculum so as to eventually convert my little pagan students into blossoming neo-platonic wonderers, all awe-inspired by the infinity of God.

That's the plan anyways. First, though, I've gotta learn how to teach. And maybe even before that, I've gotta learn how to learn.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rock me, Zizioulas

Read this today (pp. 97-8):
zizioulasHis knowledge is nothing other than His love. If He ceases to love what exists, nothing will be. Being depends on love.

...The incarnate Christ is so identical to the ultimate will of God's love, that the meaning of created being and the purpose of history are simply the incarnate Christ. All things were made with Christ in mind, or rather at heart, and for this reason irrespective of the fall of man, the incarnation would have occurred.

...Christ becomes the "principle" and "end" of all things, the One who not only moves into history from within its unfolding, but who also moves existence even from within the multiplicity of created things, towards the true being which is true life and true communion. [source]

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Advent Cometh

Guys! Listen! This Sunday! It's Advent!

Thus begins my favorite season of the Christian year - and incidentally, thus begins the Christian year. That's right, the first Sunday of Advent is the mark of the Christian New Year; it's our biting the thumb at the eternal lameness of the pagan calendar, springing the beginning of (the new) history before the year even ends, "already and not yet." Before the end of all things comes the Gospel, and we relive this story year after year into eternity future.

RE: The Grand Synthesis

And yet we know that every text is synthetic, every writing is a conglomeration of certain texts (and not others). Likewise, every reading is synthetic and there is no access to any original source. We are infected with existence and the passivity of being on every side. For all our criticisms of the Grand Synthesis, for all the unease it causes us because of its convenient coincidence with our wants and desires, we are helpless. Every proposition we affirm will be coloured with bias, omission, and dogma. We are always, everywhere guilty of everything we never say - and yet the greatest sin might be all the things we affirm that we will never read (not because we won't but because we can't). Every thought bears the trace of everything it isn't, and thus all finite communication seems guilty of the hubris of the Grand Synthesis, every noble assent being conformed to some ideology somewhere.

But there is a hope. At least, if we employ some clever qualifications, there is.

What distinguishes the patron of Grand Synthetic fables and the harbinger of Truth(!) is first and foremost that Isaianic humility that ought to color every confession: We are men of unclean lips and we live among a people of unclean lips. This is the point of annoying the doctrine of perspicuity. It is not that we must doubt the clarity of God's Word, but we must doubt the clarity of men who speak boldly of such clarity. The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture serves far better than any doctrine to keep men from believing Scripture. For, if Scripture is "clear" and we know "what it says," then we may find that following a cursory reading or two of the Bible, we may heretofore conclude whatever the Bible will or can say. If we have already decided that we know what the Scriptures say, if we have already formulated what the Gospel is (and what it couldn't possibly be), then what is the point of further reading? My own belief is that, if that were the case, then there is no point. We are done, dead, and damned as we condemn every future confession/repentance as "revisionism." (God save us should we ever attempt to turn from error.)

However, the other thing, the thing that will overthrow every Magisterium in every epoch is the wisdom of typology, a topic in which I have only deepening interest.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two Bits

Take Thomas:
Oh, readers all, the Grand Synthesis leaves out so much of the mess of history, all ignrint as it is of complexity and all frightened of contradiction... Know nothing of the various allegories that made up the riotous practice of reading Scripture well into the sixteenth century? Who cares? You can determine from almost any Synthetic work all you need to know about it. Whatever you do, don't read the particular texts themselves, try to learn a little economic and social history in which to embed 'em, and make up your own mind - there's always a Magisterium of some sort to do that for you - your own place on either bank of the Tiber makes little difference here. [source]
And add this to every other folly written here:
Typology is the beginning of wisdom. [source]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Most Important Difference

And whatever else we decide to say about the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New, we must never ever ever confess that the primary distinction between the two is a matter of "sincerity." Heavens, no. Not even for a second should we entertain such sillinesses as believing that Israel was unique in that it was a national entity or a political entity or an ethnic entity (or whatever), and thus lent itself to having a mixture of sincere and insincere membership. Oh please, oh please, no. We must never distinguish between an Israel mixed with belief and unbelief and a Church that contains no natural mixture of unbelief. The long and the short of it is that "justification by faith" is not even remotely the same thing as "justification by sincerity." O Brother, O Sister! Listen to me: If you cannot see the difference between "faith" and "sincerity," then stop wherever you are in your covenant theology tracks and re-think everything, because if you don't know what the Bible means by "faith" then you probably have no idea what the Bible means at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two Types

This is something that I noticed back when I started reading Kingdom Prologue in the Summer. Not all typology is typology. Or at least, typology for Kline is not exactly the same thing as it is for Jordan. Mr. Jordan recently acknowledged this fact on the Biblical Horizons blog, explaining that typology for some is:
[T]he post-Reformation intellectualist notion that types are simply symbolic forms slapped onto reality and designed to teach us things... [source]
This he contrasts with his own approach, which he describes as:
[A] Vantillian and arguably pre-modern view that “typology” is a revelation of the meaning of human life as imaging the life of God [source]
Of course, one can easily detect the polemics implied by Jordan's definitions here, but the fact remains that there are some substantial differences between the two. And, as Jordan alludes (to Van Til), to a large extent, I believe this has something to do with ontological assumptions about God, man, and revelation.

Now, to be frank, I learned typology from Peter Leithart and James Jordan (with some helpful direction by Alastair Roberts). To a large extent, I'm inclined to take their side in the matter. But I realize that their view is a more or less minority viewpoint, so I am suspending judgment on the matter, weighing the merits of both positions over the next year or so.

Isaiah and the Cleansing of the Temple

Thanks to Thomas, I finally get why Jesus references Isaiah lvi when he is cleansing the Temple. (Matthew xxi, 12-13; Mark xi, 15-19) He writes:
By the by, dear reader, the cleansing of the Temple's outer court by none other than YHWH in the flesh, Jesus Christ, was not simply a pious condemnation of greed. No, that outer court was meant for the gentiles - there they were to gather as they streamed in from all over the earth to fall down and worship the One true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling the promises found in the great prophets from the fall of the Two Kingdoms to the first Advent of our Lord. For the Temple, that is, the Cosmos itself, 'is to be a house of prayer for all people'.

Thus, we see that the promise is fulfilled, the gentiles are grafted in, the true Temple is Jesus himself, and all who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must, one day or another, fall down before him and call him Lord and God and King and Brother and Savior. [source]
Thanks, Thomas!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Church, the Building

I've noticed right away that when non-denoms spend money, it's on theater equipment, while the Orthodox and Catholics spend it on prettying up the place. If you go into a local megachurch, you feel like you've entered an entertainment hall. When you go into an Orthodox church, you feel like you've entered a temple devoted to some kind of deity, as though Christianity were some sort of religion. [source]
Yes! I love it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Pleasant Triviality of Friendship

Seth writes:
Relationships are rarely built solely upon the shoulders of conversations that quote-unquote matter. My best and closest friendships are founded on lives lived together—and we would have particularly tepid lives if we hesitated to let the other know: “Dude! I had the best chorizo burrito this morning!” or “I just got back from seeing Before Sunset and it’s everything I could want from a sequel!” or “I have the sniffles.” That stuff right there is the grist of friendships. The heady, quote-unquote worthwhile conversations—the stuff that doesn’t just take up time—may direct relationships but if that’s all there is, you aren’t friends. Just colleagues. [source]
And I think he's absolutely right.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Analogy of Meaning

In an analogy, one relationship is supposed to be identical in quality to another relationship. For example, if someone employs the analogy, "Grain is to bread as grapes are to wine," then they are making the claim that the relationship between grain and bread is the same thing as the relationship between grapes and wine.

From what I can tell, analogy is the fundamental principle of language and meaning. Whenever I say that one thing is something, I am really saying that "One thing is to something as instantiations are to categories." There is no pure ontological base for any linguistic concept. A thing's meaning is only as meaningful as meaning is meaningful. And meaning is only "full" of meaning as a relation.

Which means the foundation of meaning is metaphor. That is, a thing is what it is like. (This, of course, is incredible, since metaphor is displaced meaning, represented meaning, symbolized meaning. It is incredible because this means that a thing's meaning is found in its not-meaning.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Works as Medicine

iMonk shared some interesting comments from an Orthodox pastor concerning the relationship between faith and works:
Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works, Roman[ Catholic]s miss this point. St. James’ phrase on justification by works is not equated to forensic justification but to a twofold of faith and conscience. But, we are then called to form our life. If we fail to do this, then we do make a shipwreck concerning the faith. We would tend to say that Protestants miss the second part. By defining all works as intrinsically impure they make a tautology that blocks out a correct balance. Our approach is medicinal. Works are the medicine for our soul, which begins to form us and heal us of our sin in a practical way. Works are not forensic, but medicinal. That is a very major difference. But, there is a warning to those who fail to take their medicine that their disease may ravage them to the point of great loss, like he who had only one talent and would not even invest it. [source]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Burning Bush

Kline on the burning bush theophany (Glory in Our Midst, pp. 28-9):
Israel's election to privileged covenant relationship, by bringing the Glory of the Lord into their very midst, seemed to threaten them with fiery destruction. Yet they were not consumed. That was the wonder, a mystery of redeeming love and grace. They expressed it in fearful amazement: "Behold, Yahweh our God has showed up his Glory and his Greatness and we have heard his voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen today that God can speak with man and he can still live!" (Deut 5:24). The Glory-flame descends upon the bush but does not consume it. The bush still lives. This miracle of grace was not to be presumed upon as a covenant guarantee regardless of Israel's covenant keeping or covenant breaking. Alert to the continuing threat of the holy Presence, the Israelites hasten to request some distancing of themselves from it through the provision of a mediator. They plead: "Why should we die? This great fire will consume us" (Deut 5:25). [source]
This passage is interesting for a number of reasons, not least in that it's a great example of Kline's occasionally perplexing Israelogy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It is the Distant Future: The Year 2000

If you still haven't gotten around to watching The Flight of the Conchords, this is what you're missing:
Oh, and please, please watch the LOTR vid.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kline v. Jordan

After I told him how pleasantly surprised I was by Meredith Kline, Berek "My dad is a Federal Visionist" Smith hilariously commented:
Yeh. He's like James Jordan - only Reformed.

You probly gotta be there to get it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Competing Systems and the Beauty of the Infinite

Comrade Josh suggests:
that we humans are much more easily amused than we give ourselves credit for. A vast system of thought is like a room filled with shiny toys. If the system is vast enough, has enough complicated trains of reason, enough technical definitions, and at least occasionally lifts itself into the poetic, our minds will stay occupied with it and therefore amused by it. As long as the mind is occupied and engaged, it believes and accepts. This is even more true when set in the context of a religion with its various practices, rules and rites. Our whole selves are engaged, making our beliefs appear that much more true to us, as long as we don't entertain too often the idea that someone else might be equally engaged by an opposite religion. That someone else might have just as total a foundation to his own belief is a little too much for us, so we go back to playing with our shiny toys and imagine that ours is the only such room in the world. [source]
And while I think he makes some good points, I still disagree.

While sociological accounts of theologians certainly have their "place" at the proverbial table of discourse, if we don't go far enough, forgetting to sociologize our sociology, then we commit just that heresy: sociology. Josh, here, in intending to relativize the manifold sillinesses that Christian theology entails, goes beyond merely critiquing inter-Traditional bickering by critiquing inter-Faith bickering. And even that is fine, as far as it goes - but it's what he omits that makes him wrong.

Christian theology is a competition of rhetoric between us and the pagans. That means pleasure (amusement) is the name of the game. Josh employs words and phrases like "shiny toys" with a half-heartedly pejorative tone, almost as though coming to use them is, for him, only the product of a blossoming cynicism. But what is theology if not a speaking forth of the rules of Trinitarian play?

Part of being Christian is learning and loving the Beautiful. This doesn't mean living in denial that pagans are thoughtful, too. But Christian theologians bear the distinct commission of subverting pagan thoughtfulness and pagan constructions of beauty, baptizing them with that shiny light called "the Gospel," bringing them into that grand poetry called "the Church."

This, of course, takes place in a battle of Word, renaming, revising, and thus recreating the world that the pagans would turn into hell if we let them. The most obvious way to fight them is to tell them that they're wrong, that they're stupid, that they wouldn't love the beauty of Wisdom if it entered the created order and paraded into their town on a donkey. They wouldn't recognize the Glory of the Lord if they stuck it on a wooden frame and hung it up themselves on a hill.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Blog?

[W]e become the things we do, the things we say, the things we write... [T]he union of people and ideas and more people could produce some small step towards greater unity. Being is Saying. Being is Writing, and what's more... we can offer worlds of words for not only others to step into, but also ourselves. [source]
Later, Josh.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

RE: Teaching

Look, I might be working 50 hour weeks, week after week. I might be getting sick every other week from the stress. My voice might be hoarse by the end of every Friday. I might spend perfectly decent afternoons giving children hell in detention. I might be super behind on finishing my master's degree (There's probably a good 5,000 pages of reading ahead of me before I graduate in May). And I may be told that I'm the worst teacher ever (by students) on a near daily basis - and that they hate me. But I still think I have a really awesome job.

I can tell that I love it when I pull aside my worst-behaved, most obnoxious students to talk with them and find that my eyes get watery when I tell them how much I care about them. That must be the tiniest glimmer of what it feels like to be a parent.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Elijah, Baptism, and Pentecost

Given the dominance of such Elijah imagery in the context of the ascension, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit immediately prior to his rapture must take on an added significance. The Elijah imagery provides the typological adhesive binding together ascension, Pentecost and parousia. Within the frame provided by the Elijah typology, an intimate connection is seen to exist between the ascension and Pentecost narratives. Consequently, any attempt to understand the events of Pentecost must begin by giving attention to the Lukan ascension accounts. [source]

Monday, November 3, 2008


Guys. Trust me. You DO NOT want to go to bed reading Meredith Kline after watching Hellboy. This is a wicked dangerous combination. Be warned lest ye experience the trippy, creepy nightmares involving James Jordan that I had last night. I am not kidding. He will steal your car if you fall asleep at his bible study. And there are monsters. This is not a joke. I very nearly wet my bed last night. Just take my word for it. Don't do it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eucharistic Meditation for Pentecost XXV

The Lord has sworn by his right hand
   and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
   to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
   for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it
   and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
   in the courts of my sanctuary.” [Isaiah lxii, 8-9]
The early Christian writer, Hippolytus, has in his liturgy a prayer for blessing the bread and wine of the Eucharist. And this is standard fare for the times, even for today. What many today would find curious is that he also includes a blessing for oil and a blessing for cheese and olives. What have these things to do with the Lord's Supper?

There are a couple things that make it difficult for us to answer that question. One is the downplayed role of Communion in Christian worship, but the other thing which makes it difficult to grasp is currency, money. Of course, the use of coinage to represent goods is hardly a modern phenomenon. Coinage predates Christianity. But what has changed since Hippolytus' time and ours is the role of currency. The way we interact economically is much more based on the exchange of currency than on the exchange of material goods. This is so much the case nowadays that many of us don't even receive paychecks anymore - the money is automatically deposited into our accounts using electricity. So we think about money and the goods for which we use it in significantly different ways. For Christians, this complicates the way we think about work and tithing - but not in any way that can't be overcome with a little reflection.

There is a temptation to think that the meaning of the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper is as simple as the bread representing Christ's body and the wine representing his blood. Of course, that is true as far as it goes - but the symbolism of the bread and the wine in the Lord's Supper is far richer than that. Isaiah lxii, 8-9 tells us that, while under judgment, Israel's bread and wine would be the plunder of gentile enemies. One reason this is a problem for the Israelites is because this wine is the work of their hands, the fruit of their labor. Isaiah says that once they are delivered from this judgment, they will be able to enjoy what they worked for. This means that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine that are given to us are representative of the fruits of our labor.

Hippolytus understands this. When we present the Communion elements to the Father, we are asking him to bless our work. And this is exactly what we are doing when we tithe. We present the Lord with a tenth of our produce (that produce which the Lord produced for us) so that he will bless the other 90%. The tithe is the sanctification of work. Because the elements of the Holy Supper also allude to work, Hippolytus finds it entirely appropriate to have them almost overlapping in the flow of Christian liturgy. Certainly bread and wine require blessing for Communion, but so do the elements of the tithe - those elements being oil and cheese and olives for Hippolytus' parishioners.

Many evangelical and non-denominational churches struggle with trying to incorporate "giving" (aka "tithing", "offerings", or "stewardship") into their services without detracting from the rhythm of their worship. Evangelicals would do well to learn from their less innovative brothers (that is, the Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox). For the mainstream practice of the Christian Church to this day is to place the collection of tithes and offerings before the Eucharist. Following the collection, the offering plates are brought with the communion elements to the altar at the front of the Church to be offered to God. This is right and proper worship if Isaiah is to be believed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And Above All

We must remember Berry's words, remember that we must:
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. [source]


But this shift extends beyond the Roman Catholic Church. In Richardson, Texas, the congregation of Trinity Fellowship Church participates in something that would have been considered almost heretical in most evangelical Protestant churches five or 10 years ago: a weekly Communion service. An independent, nondenominational church of some 600 members, Trinity Fellowship is not the only evangelical congregation that is offering a weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene or Apostles' creeds, reading the early Church Fathers, or doing other things that seem downright Roman Catholic or at least high Episcopalian. Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, which trains pastors for interdenominational or nondenominational churches, says there is a growing appetite for something more than "worship that is a glorified Bible class in some ways." [source]
Always good to find out you're trendy, I guess.

Friday, October 31, 2008

RE: The Upcoming Votefest

If the Ron Clark Academy is to be trusted, I can vote however I like - which means it will be with no unease of conscience that I will write in "Ron Paul" for president.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

RE: Halloween

How much longer are we going to watch the sacred traditions which constitute the fabric of our social being collapse under modern capitalist idolatry?
It's time to put our foot down. Enough is enough.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Grape on the vine...

Augustine on Christological exegesis:
Read all the prophetic books without perceiving Christ: what will you find so insipid and so silly? Understand Christ there, and what you are reading not only becomes savory but intoxicates. [source]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Books

Recently purchased this. Tom bought me this, this, and(!) this. And Cathleen got me this!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'The saying is almost too hard for us.'

'Love, as mortals understand the word, isn't enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.' [source]
pp. 105-6

Friday, October 24, 2008

Regarding the So-Called Economic Downturn

I remain unconvinced that the well-publicized entity known as "the economy" actually exists. There is only you and me and how we choose to relate to each other. But neither of us are controlled by some ethereal being that prevents us from making much or little gain from our work - or at least, if we are controlled, it's not by an "economy."

In Which the King and I are in Agreement

King James, of KJV fame, writes:
Now, the onely way to bring you to this knowledge, is diligently to reade his worde, and earnestly to pray for the right understanding thereof… But above all, beware ye wrest not the worde to your owne appetite, as over many doe, making it like a belle to sound as ye please to interprete: but by the contrary, frame all your affections, to follow precisely the rule there set downe. [source]
Beware the Puritans.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Path to Pentecostalism

If you're doing it right, and you do it long enough, concentrating on sacramental theology leads to pneumatology - which is bizarre. Who would have thought that constantly (if not obsessively) meditating on the physical things of our faith, water and bread and wine, would lead to seeing all of the life of the Church (of the World) as participation in the life of the Spirit (as well as the life of the Son)? Not me, at least. But now, I do. I can't help myself. Everything is pneumatology. (Though this could simply be because everything is about everything.)

Or it may have something to do with all the Kline I've been reading over the last few months.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

For Eucharistic Meditation

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” [Matthew xv, 27]

"Wine in Communion" by Alastair Roberts

The following is being republished here for the sake of convenient reference. It's virtually unreadable on my other site and I wanted to have a readable version available for linking purposes.

This piece was originally published by its author, Alastair Roberts, on his blog, "40 Bicycles," at and is republished here with the author's permission.

The common practice of celebrating the Supper with grape juice or some other form of substitute for alcoholic wine is, to my mind, a serious departure from the biblical pattern. In the old covenant there were many different rites, each with detailed instructions. God expected His people to be faithful to His command and celebrate these rites precisely as commanded. Any departure from the instituted pattern was regarded as a very serious error.

It seems to me that many evangelicals have relegated this precise God, who expects to be obeyed in the details, to the OT when it comes to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Even some conservative churches, who loudly proclaim their adherence to the ‘regulative principle’, tamper with the menu of the Eucharist. God has only given us a few simple new covenant rites and yet many churches seem determined to play fast and loose with His instructions.

What shocks me is that fundamentalist Christians are generally the worst offenders on this point. Fundamentalists, who are the most adept at ramming the Bible down people’s throats, are often the ones who treat the Bible with least concern when it runs counter to their prejudices. People who will loudly denounce anyone who holds to anything other than full submersion as the proper mode of Baptism will happily celebrate communion with Ribena. Whilst there are occasions when compromise might be appropriate (legitimate compromise does not, I believe, stretch to Ribena), in the vast majority of cases it is merely an unbiblical intolerance of alcohol that causes people to compromise. They nullify the Word of God by their tradition.

What’s the Supper all about?
At this stage some people might argue that I am missing the whole point. To insist on the use of alcoholic wine is to misunderstand the purpose of the Supper. The Supper is essentially about knowing communion in our individual hearts with God, as we meditate on what Jesus did at the cross. The outward elements of bread and wine are little more than pictures that help to draw our attention to the body and blood of Christ.

What such people forget is that the Supper is an inescapably physical ritual and cannot be reduced to a mere linguistic or mental reality. Without the elements there is no Supper. Without the physical act of eating and drinking of the elements in the assembly of God’s people there is no Supper. The danger inherent in many lowgrade forms of eucharistic theology is to reduce everything to the sursum corda. However, Jesus instructed us to ‘do this’, not ‘theologize about this’, ‘look at this’ or even ‘meditate on this’. That which He instructed us to ‘do’ was to eat bread and drink wine. The physical elements and the physical act of eating and drinking are absolutely essential. The Supper is primarily a public event and not merely a time of private communion with Jesus.

We should also recognize that, as many leading liturgical and biblical scholars have observed, the ‘remembrance’ that we are called to is not primarily the private and subjective bringing to mind of a past event, but a public memorializing (much as the Passover functioned in Israel). We should also avoid over-psychologizing the call for self-examination and discernment of the body.

A related, but more important, objection is that the Supper is inescapably public and ecclesial. The Supper is about communion, and not just communion with Jesus in the privacy of the human heart. The Supper constitutes the Church as one body. ‘Private communion’, quite apart from being somewhat oxymoronic, is patently unbiblical. The fact that it is, to all intents and purposes, practiced in many churches where people partake as if the Supper is just a ‘me and Jesus’ meal is extremely worrying and shows how far the eucharistic doctrine of many evangelicals has departed from the biblical pattern.

The Supper is only the Supper when it is performed by the Church of Jesus Christ. The Bible does not teach a merely functional ecclesiology, but presents us with a visible Church outside of whose walls there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. In 1 Corinthians 11 it is interesting to observe the manner in which Paul speaks of the ‘body’ of Christ. One verse He speaks of the sacramental body of Christ (the bread as Christ’s body); shortly after he speaks of Christ’s historical body (the body crucified for us); later he speaks of the ecclesial body (the body as the Church). Only by maintaining the close relationship between the three aspects of the body of Christ can we protect the Supper from the Scylla of becoming a mere mnemonic device (as it has become in a lowgrade evangelical form) and the Charybdis of becoming an extrinsic miracle (as in some extreme forms of transubstantiation).

The Supper is a memorializing meal that is celebrated by the assembled church and not a mere picture for individuals to meditate on. Consequently, the physical elements that constitute this meal are very important.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
By arguing for the validity of grape juice in the Supper, evangelicals have greatly reduced the significance of the Lord’s Supper. The Supper celebrated without wine is a radically distorted Supper, a Supper that is at risk of being entirely eviscerated. In many churches today, the Supper has become a time for people to put on funereal countenances and engage in sombre introspection, whilst meditating on how unworthy they are and how much it cost Jesus to pay the price for their sins. Whilst elements of the Supper instituted by our Lord are undoubtedly retained, the true character of the Supper is badly obscured.

Part of the problem is found in the fact that evangelicals often fail to appreciate that the theological meaning of the Supper is embedded in the concrete practice of it.

There is a world of difference between grape juice and wine. If you were arranging an important party and instructed a friend to go and buy some of the finest wine for your celebration, you would be appalled if he returned with cartons of grape juice instead. The character of a celebration can be considerably altered by the type of food and drink that is served.

I am a firm believer in the statement lex orandi, lex credendi. The manner in which we worship has a powerful effect upon our beliefs. If we consistently worship God falsely, we will be moulding our minds to believe in a false God. Arguably nothing is more urgently required in the Church today than a reformation of worship.

Many evangelicals today find it hard to believe in a God who would command His people to celebrate with wine and strong drink in His presence. They find it hard to believe in the God of Scripture (Deuteronomy 14:26). In place of this God they have created a god in their own image—an irascible and judgmental party pooper. This god would have us engage in morbid introspection and look melancholy at His table. This god is reluctant to have us too relaxed in His presence; we might forget that we are unworthy and sinful worms.

The problem is that for all too many evangelicals the Supper is not a joyful feast of memorial of Christ’s great victory over the powers in the assembly of the Church; rather, it is a time for dour individuals to contemplate their personal relationship with Jesus. It can look more like a funeral than a feast.

Stripping away the Symbolism
The phrase ‘fruit of the vine’ should not be read in isolation from the rest of Scripture. Christ’s institution of the Supper takes place against the backdrop of the Passover, OT prophecies of an eschatological feast, tithe feasts, drink offerings, sacrificial meals, images like that of Lady Wisdom’s feast (Proverbs 9:1-6) and an OT network of symbolism in which wine—the sabbath drink—plays a significant role as a symbol of judgment and blessing.

Wine is the drink that brings gladness (Psalm 104:15), wine is the drink of kings (Nehemiah 2:1), wine is forbidden to the priests because their work is not yet done (Leviticus 10:9); wine is also the drink of victors (Genesis 14:18). Wine is something that matures and is produced by man in time. It does not occur naturally.

The choice of wine was not primarily motivated by its colour, but by its place within a network of symbolism (although wine was certainly associated with blood in the OT). Besides, if we are going to rule out anything except the explicit command of Christ in the institution of the Supper we could just as easily celebrate communion with white wine (indeed, the blinkered literalist could celebrate with tomato juice; tomatoes are the fruit of a vine) as the colour is never expressly stipulated. Of course, whilst white wine or some other alcoholic drink would preserve far more of the meaning of the Supper than red grape juice, there are clear reasons to prefer red wine.

Most evangelicals presume that the alcoholic nature of wine is not an important part of the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. I disagree. The symbolism attached with wine throughout Scripture plays much on its alcoholic quality. Wine is seen as that which distinguishes between fools and wise. Wine is dangerous and demands wisdom, power and maturity to control it properly. Cups of wine are symbols of judgment for this reason and kings are often associated with wine (we see a few cupbearers to kings in the biblical narrative).

Priests were forbidden to drink wine as their work was not yet done. I doubt if they would have been forbidden to drink grape juice. Jesus refused sour wine on the cross, as he had promised that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine until He had finished His priestly work and entered into His kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Grape juice damages this element of the biblical symbolism.

Wine emboldens and this imagery of wine emboldening for battle is used of both God and man in Scripture (Psalm 78:65; Zechariah 9:15). Wine is that which makes hearts glad, leads people to sing and loosens inhibitions. Grape juice does not have quite the same effect, at least in my experience. Wine is the sabbatical drink, the drink of feasting which men take to relax (e.g. Deuteronomy 14:26). It is therefore fitting that wine is associated with the Spirit in certain places in Scripture. Grape juice empties much of this imagery also.

The Bible is full of feasts of wine. Take Esther, for example. Or the eschatological feast in Isaiah 25:6. Or the marriage suppers. Or the victory feasts. Or the tithe feasts. Are we willing to sacrifice all of this biblical imagery associated with the Lord’s Supper on the altar of modern evangelical prejudices concerning alcoholic drink? We cannot exclude alcohol from the Lord’s Supper without losing much of the theological import of the celebration. Having grape juice at the Lord’s Supper is like having a vegetarian substitute at Passover.

New Testament Teaching
In addition to the OT background, I believe that there are certain other things that can be demonstrated from NT teaching. The Lord’s Supper should be more of a joyous feast than a sombre occasion. It is a foretaste of the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb and should, to some degree or other, be celebrated in a manner that brings this truth out. I believe that it is one of those occasions when we are called by God to ‘rejoice’ (like in Deuteronomy 14:26). We should encourage joy.

A further thing that we should encourage is fellowship. The Lord’s Supper is about communion—not just with God but with one another. If we go through the Lord’s Supper with grave faces and fail to fellowship with others, I believe that our celebration is woefully lacking. We are corporately memorializing the great victory of the Son of God over Satan, in which event the community of the Church sees its foundation; how can we not rejoice?

Wine in Bible Times
Few will deny that Christ used wine when He instituted the Supper. However, many argue that the wine of those times was considerably weaker, perhaps so diluted as to barely have any alcoholic content at all. Scholars have produced detailed word studies, trying to argue that the references to wine in the old and new testaments can include grape juice.

The persuasive power of such studies lies purely in the mind of those who want to rationalize their unbiblical practices with regard to the Lord’s Supper. It is patently clear in Scripture that wine is alcoholic and the alcoholic quality of wine is central to both its positive and negative uses. Those who focus exclusively on lexical studies often (willfully) lose sight of the fact that wine is given significance by its place within a system of symbolism; extract wine from this setting and its significance diminishes considerably.

I have yet to see someone explain how grape juice ‘makes the heart glad’ in the same way as wine does. Feasts are practically universally celebrated in scripture with some form of alcoholic drink. The fact that drunkenness is reported to have taken place at a number of biblical feasts suggests that, even if their wine was heavily diluted, they were drinking more than mere thumbfuls of it.

We should also remember that God did authorize the use of strong drink alongside wine in the tithe feasts (Deuteronomy 14:26); there is nothing wrong in principle with the use of stronger alcohol in communion.

The Tradition of the Church
Just about every aspect of the Lord’s Supper has been controverted at one point or another. There have been differences within the church on whether the wine should be mixed with water or not, or whether the issue was indifferent. There were differences between the azymites and the prozymites with regard to the kind of bread to be used. There have been differences over the legitimacy of intinction. The list could go on.

Nevertheless, with regard to the use of wine in communion, there has been a clear consensus throughout the church for well over 1800 years. The impetus towards change on this matter did not arise from some new biblical insight, but from cultural prejudices.

Other arguments
Some Christians bring up such passages as Romans 14 as reason for abstaining from wine in communion. There are weaker brothers and sisters who might be caused to stumble if wine were used in communion.

If anyone has a problem with strong alcohol in communion, it can be diluted. Besides, no one drinks enough communion wine to even get tipsy, let alone completely drunk. If a person in a congregation has a problem with the use of alcoholic wine I would suggest that it would be better for them to abstain, rather than change the biblical institution to accommodate their biblically uninformed conscience / lack of self-control. It should also be recognized that for many former alcoholics, the Church is such a radically different context for drinking that temptation is not a real issue.

I do not believe that the pattern of Romans 14 teaches us that we can play fast and loose with Christ’s institution. There is an important distinction to be drawn between those who might be led into sin by our enjoyment of liberty and those who simply carry unbiblical cultural prejudices that they want to impose upon everyone else. The institution of Christ should not be held hostage by the tyrannical opinions of such people.

In my experience, the most militant teetotalers are not the type who would be led into sin by other Christians partaking. They are not appropriately described as ‘weaker’ brethren, but are those who habitually judge brothers and sisters who drink, contrary to Scripture. Such sin should be confronted and not pandered to.

A further point must be made. Seeking to bear with the scruples of the weak should not involve disobeying God’s positive commands. There are areas on which we have freedom. In other areas we do not have freedom. I am convinced that the use of alcoholic wine in the Supper is mandatory. Departing from this is not an option.

The reference to wine in Romans 14:21 should be read in context. It is paralleled to v.17 and some have taken it as hypothetical. I do not. The instruction takes place within a particular cultural context in which Jews fasted on particular days and those who did not fast and abstain from wine on those days of fasting (cf. Luke 5:33f., 7:33-34) would possibly cause others to stumble in the young church in Rome. That fast days are prominent in Paul’s mind is clear from Romans 14:5-6. The idea that Paul is thinking of relativizing Christ’s institution for the Lord’s Supper is out of the question. We fast in order to prepare for feasts. The friends of the bridegroom cannot fast when the bridegroom is with them. Joyful celebrations of the Supper, using alcoholic wine, reinforce the truth of the Bridegroom’s presence on such occasions.

Some churches give members of the congregation a choice between grape juice and wine for communion. This is certainly an improvement upon grape juice only. Nevertheless, it still falls far short of the biblical pattern. For one, I believe that, if there is to be any sort of substitute, it ought to be alcoholic in order to retain the biblical character of the Supper. I also believe that sharing from one cup is to be preferred. Individual mini-cups simply reinforce the individualism of our culture.

Towards Reform
Many will argue that my position is simply impracticable. Members of churches will not accept a Lord’s Supper without a non-alcoholic option. To be absolutely frank, I don’t see that this should be a real issue. The real question is whether God accepts alcohol-free celebrations of the Supper.

I sympathize with the situation faced by leaders of churches who have large numbers of militant teetotalers in their congregations. However, I believe that such people need to be opposed. God does not want us to tinker with His instructions for the sacraments. We should be far more concerned with what God thinks than with what congregations think.

Change on such matters will undoubtedly be painful, but I do not think that we can see it as optional. If churches are more concerned with keeping congregations happy concrete steps will never be taken towards reformation on such controversial issues. Church leaders need to be prepared to bite the bullet on this matter.

The way that we worship has a powerful effect upon the way that we think about God. If we move away from the biblical form of worship we will move away from the biblical picture of God and of where we stand in relationship to Him. Checking downgrades in worship is, in my opinion, far, far more important than many evangelical and Reformed Christians are accustomed to think. The use of non-alcoholic substitutes for wine in the Eucharist represents just such a downgrade.

If there is one thing that Church history has taught us, it is that old habits of worship die very hard. Calvin pointed out about 450 years ago that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated weekly if we are to follow a more biblical pattern. Countless other theologians have said the same things since. Nevertheless, there is such a powerful inertia in churches that few pastors feel like pushing towards change on these issues. I believe that the leadership of churches needs to be far more proactive in the reformation of worship if we are to get anywhere.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Yesterday was awesome. 6th period began with two young men supposedly playing. This "play" took place in the form of one of them charging the other one and driving him into the wall some eight feet behind him. Yes. It was great. Oh and also, I forgot to mention that I was between that poor "playmate" and the wall into which he was slammed. As I recovered from being knocked over and immediately moved to break up the "shenanigans" which were ensuing, the wooden meter stick in my hand was incidentally broken into two pieces. Boys were sent to separate rooms, and then eventually to the assistant principal's office. There, they explained what was so plainly "obvious" to the both of them - that they were just a couple of friends playing a little rough. The whole thing was, I am told, an "accident." And as you might expect, both were let go without consequence.

Needless to say, the remainder of 6th period was shot to hell.

I was fairly exasperated, you might imagine, and longing to vent my frustrations into the first sympathetic ear I could find, I became further irritated as each of the people in whom I would normally trust to listen were preoccupied with all their own little worlds. My only solace was in the phone call I received shortly after school ended, the mother of one of those rascally adolescents. I was nearly in tears just hearing her apologize for the great amount of grief her son is causing me. I told her I was "very, very thankful" that she called.

I was so emotionally exhausted that I found myself collapsing my head sideways into the car window and just staring, staring and listening, listening to a gorgeous little song that seems to sooth my well-tried heart, Sam Beam's "Sodom, South Georgia"...

Compounding on the day's awesomeness, Cathleen and I had a pleasant evening of fighting over God-knows-what, and circa 10PM, when I finally got home, my eyes were bloodshot and throat exhausted from all the yelling (at the kids, not her).

Today was only mildly better. I lost count of how many detentions I issued out. (Though I'm pleased to report that two of them go to the children mentioned above.) Cathleen and I decided to stop hating each other and even met up with our awesome wedding photographer to discuss, well, the wedding. But I'm now off for home to be with the family, looking forward to a night filled with the grading of tests.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wedding Registry

Thursday, October 9, 2008

He made it, dear reader, in order to save it.

Thomas writes:
As I've said perhaps too many times, all we have in the face of a chaotic, hapless, careeningly stupid world, all we have are a few words, some bread and wine, and a basin of water. With such basic, simple elements, he conquers all and brings all into the orbit of absolute, unyielding, joyful, elective, [source]

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her

Get wisdom; get insight. [Proverbs iv, 5]

Sunday, October 5, 2008

RE: Anamnesis

Quoth Stephen:
John’s Revelation is a book about Lord’s Day worship and also ... when we have the Lord’s Supper, Jesus comes to judge and recreate. The Eucharist is a memorial that we bring before God with the intention that He will remember Jesus Christ’s work. We ask that He will remember its past accomplishment and its future promise. Come Lord Jesus. And He does. [source]

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Accessability Fail!!

Hint - If your book starts out with chapter titles like "Naming the Metaworld," "Alpha Radiation: The Creation of Heaven," and "Omega Apocalypse: The Consummation of Heaven" and the last section of your book has tons of sentences like:
Entailed in this teleogical priority is a formative relation to the precursive course of the cosmos; the decreed eschatological epiphanation of the God-man Redeemer dictates the shape of the whole anterior historical process, both creational and lapsarian.
Then you probably didn't succeed at providing "a primer in covenant theology." Nor is it likely that you made "more accessible the gist of some of [your] previous biblical-theological studies ... [doing] so in a form serviceable to a wider readership."

You're doing it wrong, Mr. Kline.

What I Told the JWs

After being very patient and answering every question they asked, I calmly said:
Look, to put all my cards on the table, I used to live in Orlando and I used to ride my bike to church every Sunday and I used to pray for you guys every time I'd pass by your Kingdom Hall that you would repent of your heresies. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who is seated at the right hand of the Father. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, forever and ever. I believe that unless the Spirit unites you to the Son and that he presents you to the Father as his, then there is no hope for your salvation. I believe that the three persons of the Trinity are of one substance and that they are the unifying force of the entire cosmos. I believe that unless the Father sent the Son to become fully God and fully man, then there is no forgiveness of sins. This is the doctrine that sets the entire Christian Church apart from all pagan religions. You deny the Incarnation, right? (He nods yes) Then that puts you in the company of Arius, one of the first major heretics. I'm not selling my soul by putting my stock in that. It's not just "a different belief" (as they put it smoothly). The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are apostolic teaching, and their teaching is the bedrock of the Christian Church. Outside of it there is no salvation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Blue Guitar


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Messing with a Good Thing

And the point, of course, in trying to frustrate doctrines such as "the perspicuity of Scripture" is not to distract us from Scripture. No sir, not at all. It is not to call our attention away from Scripture and redirect it toward popes and councils and divers and sundry theologically hip monographs. Quite the opposite, in fact. The point of bringing up things like this is to convince us of the infinite labor with which we must engage the text, to stir up in us a tireless passion to be led by the hand ("manuduced" if you will) into the text, along the text, and even against the text (that the text might confront, contradict, and conquer us). We must become conformed to the text, must be written by the text, must be revised in such a way that we confess and eat and drink the text. If this text, this Word of God, is that in which we move and live and have our being - it is the substance underlying every atom in our body - then to say that "Scripture is clear" must be something like saying that "molecular biology is clear."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Life Update in Miniature

The weather is simply gorgeous today.

I now have internet at my job.

This CD has been getting fairly heavy rotation lately.

Also, last night I got engaged.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Glimpse into the Heavenlies


You have to sing the Nicene Creed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


During adolescence, as children mature, (per)spiration dramatically increases. A bodily annointing takes place. That is, an outpouring of oil flows all over the body. (Our bodies runneth over.) This annointing, this "baptism" if you will, marks the entrance into adulthood, into wisdom, into wise appropriations of our priestly and prophetic callings.

Sweat, as we all know, is the product of labor, of work. It is the visible glorification of the body with the dew of dominion.

And yet... and yet despite the beauty of this analogical relationship between the life of one adam with the history of all humanity, we share as well in futility. The end of our lives is not much different than the end of Adam's. The oil of our skin, which preserves the beauty of youth, eventually dries up. As the oils fade and our skin cells die and our visage fades in glory, so do we begin to wrinkle and dry up, apostasizing finally into the dust from which we came.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Keep On Reading and Do Not Understand

Yes! Yes! Yes!
It should first be noted that when we say things like, "The Word of God is clear" or "Scripture is clear" or "The doctrines of Holy Scripture are clear," we are not speaking in plain and simple terms. When we say that Scripture is "clear" we are employing a fairly deeply ingrained metaphor from within the English language. This metaphor is so deep that it seems to sometimes slip nto the realm of plain or literal speech. However, in the same way that saying "Things are looking up" is a metaphorical statement, so to is "The Word of God is clear." In a technical sense, the Bible is not clear and neither is the teaching of Scripture. "Clear" is more of a scientific term we use to describe how much light can pass through an object. [source]

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Existentialism


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Church People

Sure, sure. The Church is the people, not the building. And Christ is in heaven, not in bread and wine. But it is only through the bread and wine of Holy Communion that we are a holy communion. Likewise, it is only through a building that we gather together as the building of God.

Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day

According to Deuteronomy xxxi, 10-11, the reading of the Law occurs during the Feast of Booths.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

RE: The New Gig

I actually need a tie rack. Simply amazing.

Monday, September 1, 2008


What, then, can we say of the kiss? Setting aside the fact that we are commanded no less than five times to kiss each other (Romans xvi, 16; I Corinthians, xvi, 20; II Corinthians xiii, 12; I Thessalonians v, 26; I Peter v, 14), there is doubtless much that needs to be written on the subject of kissing.

If I were to embark on such a literary quest, I would begin by considering the Pentecostal realities embodied in the act, paying special heed to the use of lips, tongue, mouth, and cheek, and the various theological connotations these things stir up (such as confessions of faith and confessions of sin). I would note the obvious contrast between Babel and Pentecost. I would highlight the curious redundance of the phrase "speaking in tongues" (since all speech involves tongues and langues). (And I won't even mention the fact that its Pentecostal robustness means that the kiss, too, is something that only the believer can know and do in the fullest sense of the thing.)

But not today.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sabbath Commandment v2

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. [Deuteronomy v, 12-15]

Sabbath Commandment v1

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [Exodus xx, 8-11]

Naming Noah

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” [Genesis v, 28-29]

The Sabbath

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. [Genesis ii, 2-3]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Theology of Seed

Douglas Knight writes:
The Scriptures demonstrate Israel's concern with the producing of sons. Does Israel assume that the gentiles will either be attracted or defeated by Israel's own greater fecundity and success at producing sons for Abraham? Does the priestly teaching on Israel's purity and holiness represent the coming into being of this Son, a theology of the coming of the Christ and thus of the coming into being of Adam? For want of a more adequate account I will attempt to sketch the biological idiom of Israel's political claim. The Israelite who sees semen on the sheets (Lev. 15:16) sees something more consequential than himself there. He sees the life-substance of Israel, the combined presence of all generations, preceding and succeeding. Though it came out of him, it is the life-stuff of Adam and Abraham: it is not his, but theirs and returns to them. The single Israelite is no complete instantiation of Israel; his children are not the affirmation of his individuality, bu the gift he must return to the Lord. God gives children, and a man must take them, sow them in his wife, nurture and bring them up. He must present them to the Lord in the temple where God accepts them back from him and accepts that Israelite by accepting his gift of his children. Without children, he has no continuing being in Israel. A man's membership of Israel is confirmed by the arrival of the fruit of the seed given in him to plant in his wife. If his children also turn out to be obediently fertile, he is born again, not of a potential intrinsic to the flesh, but of the Spirit, or Seed, of Israel. Not all are Israel who are simply born to people who are, or whose parents were, Israel: they are Israel when they are born again of the living and enduring Seed and Spirit.
-The Eschatological Economy, pp. 76-77


From the Sociology of the Church:
Conversion is a turning from sin to Christ. Now, let’s think about that. Does conversion happen only once in a lifetime, or does it happen many times? That is the question, I believe, that needs answering.

From my experience, and from my understanding of the Bible and of Christianity, there are four kinds of conversion experiences. First, for a person totally outside the faith, there is an initial conversion experience, when that person comes to Christ for the first time. This kind of conversion has become the norm for everyone, unfortunately, even though it applies to relatively few Christian people.

Secondly, there is daily conversion. Each day, and many times during the day, we have to turn from sinful tendencies, and turn back to Christ. These “little turnings” are so many daily conversions. By magnifying the initial conversion experience, modern evangelism does not say enough about daily conversion.

Third, there are what I call “crisis conversions.” There are crisis points in every Christian’s life. At these crisis points, the Christian needs to reaffirm his or her faith by making a major break with some problem that has crept up, and make a major turn toward Christ.

Fourth, there are what I called “stage conversions.” By this I don’t mean conversions that are merely put on for show. Rather, I mean that God brings Christians through various stages of growth and maturity, and at each stage it is necessary for the Christian to come to a fuller understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Now, I don’t think enough justice is done to this matter of stages of life. As a person grows, his understanding of himself, of the world, and of God will change, because he is himself changing. His understanding grows wider, and embraces more factors of life. He becomes aware of things he was not aware of before. Moreover, his understanding grows deeper, and more profound. Learning to adjust to a spouse, and then to children; learning to adjust to authorities on the job, and learning how to relate to subordinates; learning how to manage money; etc. — all of these things cause a person to deepen and widen his understanding. Hopefully, they cause a person to become more and more wise and stable.

These changes of understanding happen slowly and gradually, without our being aware of them, One day, however, we wake up and realize that we have changed. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, I realize. And my understanding of God and of His ways, of what it means to be a Christian, had better change too.My faith needs to deepen and broaden. Once again, I need to give all to Him, because my understanding of “all” has expanded. [source]

Infinite Meaning

Dennis Hou quotes Jean-Luc Marion:
The text, where the Word's effect of meaning is fixed in verbal signs, consigns the incommensurability of the Word: the Scriptures thus exceed the limits of the world (John 19:30, 21:35). The text escapes the ownership of its literary producers in order to be inspired, so to speak, by the Word: or rather, it assumes the "objective" imprint of it in the same way that the disciples receive, from the Word, an "objective" figure: apostleship. For the text also becomes apostolic--sent by another than itself to go where it did not want to go. Hence a sort of infinite text is composed (the closure of the sacred canon indicating precisely the infinite surplus of meaning). It offers, potentially, an infinite reserve of meaning (as one speaks of "the reserved Eucharist"), hence demands an infinity of interpretations, which, each one, leads a fragment of the text back to the Word, in taking the point of view of the Word; hence it implies an infinity of eucharistic hermeneutics.

And comments:
So we thank God that the Bible, properly interpreted, has infinite meaning and meanings, (which most certainly does not imply that anything goes any more than an infinite set of integers must contain the number two.) [source]


From Creation in Six Days (pp. 114-116)
Collins asks, "Does the creation speak truly?" We can reply to this very general question with a very general answer: Of course it does, but is the creation designed to speak by itself? The answer to that second question is clearly no. The creation does not "speak" at all, really. Rocks, trees, birds, and stars do not communicate linguistically. The information that is contained in the creation must be put into words by human beings, and since human beings cannot exist without language, human beings are always interpreting the creation linguistically.1

Human beings are living words and live in a linguistic environment because they are images of God, who is Word and who lives in an environment of eternal communication. Since God created the universe, His linguistic interpretation of it is absolutely correct; we think His thoughts after Him.


All of this is not to do away with the reality of "natural revelation," but it is to say that the matter of natural or general revelation involves subtleties that need to be considered. We cannot simply say, "The creation speaks truly," because in fact it is man who speaks, and man is a willing slave of the father of lies. Man seldom speaks truly.

1 As one reader of this manuscript pointed out, all creation images God in a sense, and God is Word, so therefore creation is in a sense God's speech. Speech, however, requires breath, which in this case is the Spirit, who entered the creation at the moment of creation. It is through the Spirit that the creation speaks. The Spirit entered humanity when man was created (Gen 2:7), and so it is through mankind that creation speaks. The speech of creation consists of human language, not of something else...

What is "Science"? (pp. 120-121)
This is, or should be far more obvious when it comes to things of which we have no direct experience. We have only begun to scratch the surface of an investigation of the first inch of the foyer of the universe, for instance. Yet, with supreme confidence modern scientists project theories about how the universe works, as if they already had all the facts needed to form a final theory. On the surface of it, this is ridiculous. I personally remember when the first quasars were discovered. What else remains to be discovered?

Indeed, we only finished mapping the surface of the globe a century or so ago. What is really under the ice of Antarctica? And what things lie in the depths of the sea? We have little knowledge of these things.

The amount of erroneous and prejudiced misinterpretation of data is vast. A couple of thousand years ago a few refugees lived in caves in France for a short time, and this fact has been turned into the myth that human beings lived in caves for millennia! Why should any thinking person accept such a notion? Because of carbon-14 dating? But C-14 dating is extremely subjective and frequently misleading.

We may ask: In a hundred years, will anyone still believe that you cannot go faster than light? In a hundred years, will anyone still believe that the red-shift in the spectra of the stars is caused by their rapid movement away from us in an "expanding universe"? Why on earth should anyone, especially thinking Christians, commit themselves to the temporary notions of "scientific" theories, knowing that a century ago nobody believed such things, and knowing that we have only just begun to explore the outer universe?

A scientific construct is just that: a construct. It may be quite helpful. It may be the best we can do at present. It may a be a step along the way to a better understanding, or it may be a blind alley. But when it is obvious that scientists are dealing with only a very few facts, and there is a great deal more to be learned, there is no earthly reason to accept any such construct as the final word.

Science and Dominion (pp. 122-126)
What science cannot deal with is time, because God alone is Lord of time. God is eternally active and infinite, and as a result, the future always brings new things into play as God does new things, revealing new aspects and implications of His being and plan, bringing forth new things that were hidden and embedded in the creation at the beginning. Thus, it is simply not possible to imagine the future accurately. When men imagine the future, they imagine something very much like their own present, only more so in some particular way: more money, more steam, more sexual license, more computers, etc. - thus, it is amusing to read the science fiction written a century ago, or fifty years ago. For this reason, the biblical pictures of the future are always presented in symbols that point to future realities that cannot presently be described. Ezekiel, for instance, is shown a picture of the Restoration Era sanctuary in the form of a huge Temple and City (Ezek. 40-48), but these were not actually built; rather, they pointed to the Spiritual realities of the period after the Babylonian Exile.

If the future cannot really be envisioned, then it cannot be controlled, which means the believer lives a life of faith and obedience, not of planning and dominion. Human dominion is exercised toward the lower world, the world of sciencel history, however, must be accepted as authored by God and lived by faith.

Because men cannot control the future, they deny it. Human beings exist, after the Fall, in a war with time. They want to escape time, to escape the unsettling changes of the future. The works of Mircea Eliade explore this phenomenon in some depth. All pagan religions seek to "externalize time" and thereby escape God's ordination of the future. They all look back to a golden age, which they can understand, because if they were to look to the future they would have to bow before their Creator.

A "spatial" mode of thinking is very much present in Western Civilization, especially since the so-called Enlightenment. After all, science works: It brings good things, such as light bulbs and velcro. Science can be understood. Science is under human dominion. Science is free of the "messiness" that is involved with the understanding of history. Thus, the exploration of space and place and dominion over creation have become the models for all human inquiry, as the various works of such thinkers as Herman Dooyeweerd and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy have pointed out.

This mode of thinking has greatly affected theology and Christian religion. One effect has been to assist the widespread belief that we are living at the end of history and that Christ must come soon, a belief that has distorted the thinking of Christians for several generations. The fact that this belief is shown false decade after decade has not lessened its credibility, because men like to believe that no significant changes are to occur in the future; in fact, Christians will be "raptured" so as not to have to go through any such changes. Biblical prophecy is repeatedly reinterpreted in terms of contemporary events, phenomena, and devices. Another legacy of this mode of thinking is the notion we have already examined, that nothing new remains to be discovered that will significantly alter current scientific constructs.

Still another effect of this mode of thinking is the notion that the way things are now is the way things have always been. Virtually all historical fiction, for instance, project modern Western-type people back into historical times. The characters in such fiction think and act like modern people. Few are the authors who are able, or even willing, to try and think like people in other cultures.

Yet, if the future is unpredictable and certain to be different from the present. There is absolutely no "scientific" basis for the notion that the way things are now is how they have always been, and that is true whether we are considering the character of human society, the psychology of human beings, the behavior of animals, or the way the universe runs. Clearly things were different during the first two thousand years of human history in one respect at least: People lived much longer lives. It may well be that the universe functioned somewhat differently under the angelic administration of the Old Creation before the change of the world in A.D. 70, when that creation was fully superseded by the humanly administered New Creation. It may well be that the "natural revelation" that impelled men to sacrifice animals under the Old Creation will impel men not to do so under the New.

The only way we can know anything about the past is through historical study, in the broad sense: the study of present-day relics of the past. For instance we may know that right now there is a certain amount of carbon-14 that lodges iteelf in plants and then deteriorates, but we cannot know if the identical same conditions were in place in 1000 B.C. We may know that right now the solar system has a certain configuration, but are we certain that it had exactly the same configuration four thousand years ago? Do we know that the earth turned on its axis at precisely the same rate four thousand years ago as today?

Now, it may be a good working hypothesis to assume such continuities, though we cannot be certain of them. Indeed, we should assume a general kind of continuity based on God's faithfulness to His covenant. If, however, we have good evidence from the ancient world that things were different, we need to take that into consideration. For instance, it seems that comets were quite a bit more plentiful in ancient skies than today; the ancients had them categorized into as many as thirty different kinds. It is conceivable that comets did indeed appear as warnings of catastrophes in the ancient, angelically-governed skies, which is what all the ancients believed. Are we certain they were wrong?

Or again, the Bible (in Job) speaks of dinosaurs. Indeed, dragons and great lizards are found in stories all over the world. If all these people just coincidentally made these things up, it is curious that what they made up corresponds, at least generally, with bones not unearthed until the nineteenth century. But we moderns assume that (a) ancient people were primitive and stupid, and so they did not know what they were talking about when they spoke of great dragons; and (b) that our dating methods are sound. The bones "say" that they are millions of years old, so we ignore the testimony of the Bible and of other ancient literature.

The point of all this is that the past is not subject to the kinds of controls and observation that science requires. Interpreting the past involves guesswork to a far greater degree than observational science, and thus there is far more room for presuppositions and assumptions to play a role.

Which brings us back to Genesis 1. Is there any real evidence that the earth is older than the Bible seems to say it is? Is there any real evidence against the traditional view of Genesis 1? No. All there is against the idea of a recent creation is a series of scientific constructs, all based on the examination of present states of affairs. When science tries to speak of past or future things, it moves rapidly into constructs that are very much open to challenge.

Peter Leithart is Against Christianity

These are two things you need to know in order to know what Peter Leithart is all about. There is, of course, more that could and should be said, but the following excerpts from his book Against Christianity say alot.

Firstly, Peter Leithart is Against Christianity (pp. 31-32):
Against ChristianityAsk the average Christian about the relationship between the "church" and "salvation," and you are likely to get one of two answers: either (if the Christian is a rather old-fashioned Roman Catholic) that the Church is a reservoir of salvation, to which one must repair to receive grace; or (if the Christian is a rather common sort of evangelical) that salvation occurs apart from the Church, though it is a help along the way.

Despite the apparent differences between these two views, they are fundamentally similar. Both conceive of "salvation" as a something (almost a substance) that can be stored in a reservoir or infused into sinners directly by God. Both believe that the whole point is the salvation of individuals: for the Catholic, the Church is an essential conduit of grace, but salvation is what happens to the individual. For the evangelical, the Church is a nonessential aid to individual salvation. In both cases, [Gnostic] Christianity is looming in the background.

Biblically, however, salvation is not a stuff that one can get, whether through the Church, or through some other means. It is not an ether floating in the air, nor a "thing," nor some kind of "substance." "Salvation" describes fallen creation reconciled to God, restored to its created purpose, and set on a trajectory leading to its eschatological fulfillment. Ultimately, "salvation" will describe the creation as a whole, once it is restored to God and glorified (Rom. 8:18-25). Grammatically, "salvation" is a noun; theologically, it is always adjectival.

Nor is salvation adjectival merely of individuals. If salvation is the re-creation of man through Christ and the Spirit (which it is), then salvation must be restored relationships and communities as much as individuals. If Christ has not restored human community, if society is not "saved" as much as the individual, then Christ has not restored man as he really is. Salvation must take a social form, and the Church is that social form of salvation, the community that already (though imperfectly) has become the human race as God created it to be, the human race that is becoming what God intended it to be.

The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The Church is salvation. [source]

And secondly, Peter Leithart is Against Sacraments (pp. 75-78):
Six overlapping tendencies make it difficult for evangelicals to grasp baptism and the Lord's Supper.

First, a spiritualizing reading of redemptive history: "When Jesus removed the special status of Jerusalem as the place where God was to be worshipped (John 4:7-24), he signaled the abolition of all material forms that constituted the typological Old Testament system." The move from Old to New is thus seen as a move from ritual to non-ritual, from physical to less physical forms of worship. Baptism and the Supper seem anomalous throwbacks to an earlier era: what use do "spiritual" churches have for these rituals?

Second, the prophets: Israel's prophets inveighed against empty formalism, and some conclude from this that the prophets condemned form and ritual as such.

Third, the Reformation: The Reformers taught that the Word has priority over the sacraments. Salvation comes from hearing the Word with faith, not by mechanical adherence to the sacramental system of the Church. Sacraments are an "appendix" to the Word.

Fourth, individualism: The frame of reference for nearly everything, including worship and sacraments, is the individual person and his experience of the world. So, in sacramental theology we ask questions like, "What benefit do I receive from the sacrament?" or "What grace does the individual child receive from baptism?" And we wonder why we need these objects and substances to communicate these benefits.

Fifth, inwardness: Grace is invisible, so why do I need visible substances to receive grace? Moreover, what is really important is my spiritual heart-relationship with God; my outer physical action are of lesser significance. What matters is the "me" lurking behind the roles I play and the things I do. What happens on the outside never touches that inner self that is unchangeably me. What good then is external bath, physical food?

Finally, privatization: Religion is a matter of belief and personal devotion. Public rituals can be faked, and so those who tie religion to public rituals tempt us to be hypocrites.


In the end, all these factors reduce to one: the Church has embraced modernity's disdain for ritual, though we have given pious glosses to our worldliness.

In the end, all these factors are part and parcel of our adherence to Christianity.


Baptism and the Supper as appendixes to the Word: Despite its venerable pedigree, this is not a useful way to approach the issue. We are able to understand the Word without the help of appendix, as we can read many books with profit without reading the appendix. So long as baptism and the Supper are seen as "appendixes," they will be seen as expendable. Characterizing baptism and the Supper as "appendixes" to the Word, further, is part and parcel a Protestant tendency toward the "primacy of the intellect." It is rationalism, in that it reduces baptism and the Supper to a means for communicating information. But that is not what rituals are for. Treating baptism and the Supper as disguised sermons reduces them so they can be encompassed and tamed by Christianity.

Individualism: As God is one and three, as God's being is being in communion, so human being is being in communion. Made in the image of the triune God, we are always embedded in networks of relationship, long before we are conscious of that fact. Before we could talk or "make up our own mind," we were addressed, talked to, kissed, smiled at. The only individuals in the Bible are idols and their worshippers, who have all the equipment for relating to others and the world but cannot make use of it (cf. Ps. 115). Because of our individualistic bias, we cannot recognize that the "sacraments" are rituals of a new society, public festivals of a new civic order. And, individualism is part and parcel of the heresy of Christianity.

Religion and interiority: This has a certain plausibility because Scripture does talk about inner man and outer man, about body and soul. Yet, Scripture makes no hard or absolute demarcation between inner and outer. When people eat and drink, Scripture says their "souls" are refreshed (e.g., 1 Sam. 30:12), and exterior discipline of our children purges foolishness from their hearts (Prov. 22:15). So, outer events invade the inner life. And, inner things come to outer expression, for out of the thoughts of the heart come murders, adulteries, and other evils (Mk. 7:20-23). The mere fact that the Bible often names the "inner" man by reference to bodily organs (heart, kidneys, liver) is a hint that Scripture does not sharply distinguish inner spiritual from outer physical realities; even the "inner" man is conceived physically, not as an unbodied, ghostly self. Scripture thus teaches a complex interplay of inner/outer in human existence, a duality within unified human being. There is more to us than appears on the surface but human being is always "being in the world" because it always means "being a body." Whatever else we might say about a baptized person, we can say with utter confidence that he is baptized, and this is an irreversible moment in his "being in the world."

Religion is private: This is the heresy of Christianity in a nutshell. [source]

You can buy the book here.