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.