Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gaffin is Great

popPerspectives on Pentecost is one of those books that deserve frequent re-printings. Thirty years old now, the slim little beast has all appearances of being a lite, devotional-esque essay on the spirituality of New Testament Christianity - that, or an obnoxiously polemical little text against speaking in tongues and the charismatic movement. But it's just not that kind of book - and I'm loving it.

One of the first things I noticed about it was how deceitfully short it is. At 120 pages, one might expect it to be the sort of book one could stroll through in a couple of days. But it's just not that kind of book. I'm finding myself only making it through about 10-12 pages an hour, and not because of awkward prose or unintelligible jargon. Gaffin simply writes in a style that loads every sentence with a pointedness and depth of biblico-theological insight that turns out something not much different than wine, a thing to be carefully sipped and savored.

I do find it somewhat humourous, though, that the book supposedly was written with hopes of reaching a popular audience (this, at least, is why Gaffin said he dropped the footnotes). Only twenty five pages into it, between the untransliterated greek and a couple latin theological quips, along with a host of distinctively Vos-ian and Kline-ian (and Ridderbos-ian) (and thus, esoteric) assumptions, I'm fairly convinced that Gaffin was a little bit naïve.

Still, not even through the first chapter yet, I haven't found a paragraph that wasn't worth quoting yet, so I figured that demanded a wholesale endorsement to anyone vaguely interested in a biblico-theological approach to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Active" and "Passive" Obedience

What about "Adamic" and "Paschal" obedience instead? I think it works. It's at least more biblical terminology.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beautiful Disease

Oh dear reader, you're in for a treat. Once again, I can't sleep so here comes the midnight rant...
Currently, thoughts have been swirling about less "eternal" things, such that I've given up on bedtime after trying for the past hour-and-a-half.

Seems the work I do requires me, well, to work - and hard, at that. And certainly that offers little basis for whining, which I don't think I'm planning on, but it does occasionally put me in a stress of sorts that's rather out of sorts with my normal demeanor. The situation is this:

My district has a program, a program titled "Standards Based Promotion." This program is kind of a second chance of sorts, a chance for kids and the like that have gotten in over their heads with being held back a couple years or so. The idea is that the students can be promoted one grade level to help them get back on their feet and give them a little incentive to continuing pressing on (rather than ultimately dropping out). They're fully responsible for the material of both the new grade level and the one that they're being promoted from, which means extra work and all, but still. They get a shot at not being 2 or 3 years older than every one of their classmates and they tend to like that so it's kind of a good deal for them.

The problem is (and there are definitely problems with this arrangement) these students tend to be of a certain stripe. Whatever you want to say, it's a fact that there is a strong correlation academic performance and behavior (because all knowledge is related to virtue). This is to say, the students that typically receive this special promotion tend to be students that are simultaneously lacking in knowledge and social niceties. SBP kids are often (though not always) tough kids.

This is all well and good. It's my job to work with adolescents of diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. There will always be hard kids and easy kids. It's my job as a teacher to do far more than simply convey data. Anyone who's ever actually been in primary and secondary education knows that among other duties, the teacher is responsible for managing souls that are still learning proper behavior, which means we've got to manage a classroom much as a captain would manage his crew, with rituals, routines, and high levels of discipline. Some students will require very little guidance in with these subjects and some will require much more.

But still...

There is, even for public schools (that whipping boy among those fond of whipping), a limit to what is acceptable and understandable given the learning curve for that age group. There are often 12-year-olds who act like 10-year-olds. With a little correction these can quickly be reminded of who they are and what they need to change. But there are also those occasional - special - students who are twelve, thirteen, or fourteen who act like they are six. As it turns out (big surprise), some of my SBP kids are pretty durn special. And I get to deal with all their specialness on a daily basis.

Now I'm still a fairly young and inexperienced teacher and, while I've made huge strides this year, I still struggle to perfectly "steer the ship" as it were. This means, occasionally, I get a little bit stressed because I kind of have a hard time with some of the more challenging kids. Today, however, pushed me harder than I've been pushed in a long time.

One of my SBP students stands out as being especially challenging to motivate and control. There are good days, to be sure, but today was not one of them. Today, my student - oh dear - my student, wholly unprovoked, for reasons I cannot fathom, came into my room and decided the thing he most wanted to do was knock various items away from their proper place. He decided it would be fortuitous to go ahead and hit something off my desk - just for the fun of it? - and then walked toward the front of my room and decided to shove my overhead projector to the ground - ya know, cause Why not?

It's a real struggle, this student, because I know that I'm not going to be getting rid of him anytime soon. But I am simply at a loss. This student - who is clearly well on his way to sociopathy - is under my care for a couple of hours a day. And everything inside me wants to punish the hell out of him. But there's a part of me that knows better, or at least knows myself well enough to know that I just want to lash out at him for all the stress he's causing me. I take all this very personally. And, to me, I think there's something very right about that, but my mind can't rest because of it all. I feel responsible.

This may be the root of many criticisms of public education, but there is a sense in which it is very true that my job is to takeover for a parent for about 7-8 hours a day. For better or worse, I'm responsible for the well-being of other people's offspring in a way for which I'm held highly accountable. Silly as this sounds, I'm "dad" for those kids on a daily basis. (For some of those kids, there is a sense in which I am the only "dad" they know.)

This is hard for me, as I don't have experience as a father. I am only getting a glimmer of the struggles that true parents have, the utter befuddlement that their children can cause with their most radical failures in obedience and maturity. And it's hard. I'm aware of some of the circumstances behind this student's behavior, and there's a sense in which his actions are totally to be expected. But I'm wrestling with what strategies I can employ to teach that child that those circumstances aren't acceptable excuses. The trick, I think, is finding how to be simultaneously firm and encouraging to the lad - and figuring out how much firmness he needs and how much encouragement he needs - which is always the question, isn't it?

Friday, November 20, 2009

In Which We Consider Why We Haven't Migrated to Moscow, Idaho


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bavinck on the Spirit

Taking a break from this, I thought I'd take a look at what Bavinck might have to say about the third person of Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Pulling Volume 4 of Reformed Dogmatics, "The Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation", I began searching the Table of Contents for a chapter specifically about said trinitarian person only to find that the entire volume (all 944 pages) is Bavinck's Pneumatology. There was no place that could be described as a simple theology proper. Rather, Bavinck's work on the Spirit is found only amidst chapters on the the Church, Sacraments, Resurrection, and Eschatology.

Instructive, methinks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Plan

Dropped this [pdf]. (Way too much pointless writing.)

Registering for this [pdf] ASAP. (I've already started reading for it.)

I went ahead and registered for this [pdf]. (I'll be taking a week off from work and staying at the Hutchison's with Berek and Jason.)

And that leaves 1 credit hour that I'm planning on filling by reading this alongside this. (I just need to find a professor to coax into sponsoring it.)

Hopefully, all goes according to plan. (Though it never does.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Towards a Christian Ecclesiology - or - Those united to Christ also commune with Christ, do they not?

I'm constantly battling not to turn into Stanley Hauerwas.


Ill-related (or is it?):
Additionally, I'm not gonna lie: I take great personal offense to the positions of the Romanists, the Byzantines, and the Lutherans for their anti-christian approach to communion.

A pastor's wife recently told me that "the doors to the Church should be no narrower than the requirements of entering the Kingdom of God." And she's absolutely correct. To fail to see this is to fail to see that the Church is the place where our King Jesus reigns - that is to say, the Church is God's Kingdom. Those outside of the dominion of our Lord cannot legitimately claim to be in "the shadow of the wings" of Yahweh. (Psalm 17) And that is why there is no hope outside of it. To be outside the Church is to be outside of the care of our god and king - and as there is no salvation outside of God, there is likewise no salvation outside of his reign: his Church.

Of course, this brings to the fore the ever-pressing question, who then consists of God's Church? That is, Who are his people? For only for them may we expect redemption and forgiveness of sins. And we all desire redemption and forgiveness of sins, don't we?

And so it begins, the quest for the True Church. We may begin with a process of elimination, wisely excising the heretics from the orthodox, chopping off first the Gnostics, then the Arians, later the Donatists... and eventually we become aware of the monophysites, and even the franciscans and the liberals. And once we have found the one Church faithful to the apostolic witness, we aim to take refuge in its doors alone, leaving behind the various apostates as so much dross and a sad collection of sadder stories.

That is one way, at least. Myself, I can't stomach the method.

I can't stomach it because it's, to my mind, so plainly disinterested in our Lord Christ and his Gospel. Were I to be in search of which church to repair to (Indeed, I am!) I would start with the right question: Rather than "Where are those who are faithful to Christ?" I would ask "Where is Christ?"
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John x, 27]
In my more introspective days, I used to struggle (rather deeply!) with whether or not I was really, really, really one of His sheep. At some point I realized, however, that this question wasn't for me to discern. Belief that oneself is truly one of the Redeemed is just as much an article of faith as the Incarnation or the Resurrection or the Real Presence - implicit in Christian belief is the belief that one is in fact, just that, a Christian. (This isn't really that novel - it's implied by the first word of the Nicene Creed: credo. HT:Berek)

Having given up trying to peer into the depths of my own heart (Jeremiah xvii, 9), I've taken instead the path of greater faith, taking Christ at his word (or at least attempting to), and setting aside the entire question of Who are truly of the Faith?, trusting that Christ himself will sort all that out at the End. Instead, I've decided instead to make the Son of Man my food and drink (or at least try to) (John vi, 50-59). This is the sum of the entire Christian calling and as such it is the sum of the calling of the Church. And the Church, our mother (Galatians iv, 26), has a single calling:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” [John ii, 5]
Her calling is to call us, her baptized children, to do the will of the Father which is to feast with our whole being upon the Son in the (de)light of the Spirit.

The Church is our mother and she is ours if we have been united to the Christ whom she serves. Her service to Christ is to serve (offer) Christ, his body and and blood, before our tired and parched and hungry souls, that we may take and eat in faith. But with the visible Church always being a mixture of purity and impurity, from time to time, she acts harshly.

It's a fact that there are a number of Christian sectarians (and this is where Rome, the Orthodox, and the Luderans come up), who will openly confess that those outside their doors are truly united to Christ, whilst (especially in the the case of Rome and the East) confessing to be the single body in full continuity with that "one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" we all confess. The end of result of this is that I, personally, am told that while I am not outside of Christ, I'm forbidden from his Table. While it's true that I've been united to Christ, that's not sufficient for allowing me to share in Christ's life - or at least this is what I'm being told. Union with Christ isn't sufficient - something more is required. (Mere faith is insufficient, we must also be circumcised and keep Torah if we want full privileges of fellowship.) (Galatians iv, 17)

It's here that I commend the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, and the Evangelicals for their fairly Christian approach to communion, properly guarding the Eucharist from those outside of Christ, while not requiring more for than baptized participation in the Gospel to eat the bread and drink the wine as True Brethren.

While Communion proceeds from Union, Union is sustained by Communion. Therefore, preaching Union whilst forbidding Communion is to preach a damned Union, which is to preach damnation, which is to preach no gospel at all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oh, Prophecy - or - We Keep Talking and Talking and Don't Know What We Talkin' 'Bout

25 years ago, the character Egon Spengler (from Ghostbusters) commented, "Print is dead."

Mind you, that's before the internet revolution, before YouTube, before Wikipedia, before Google, before blogs, and Kindle. Heck, that's before there was a computer in every house, before iPods and netbooks.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

RE: The Orthodox Church

Not that I'll ever convert to Orthodoxy or anything, but aside from the Joel Osteen sermon, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was rad.

Oh, Homily

One curiosity that I've discovered over the last few years is that there is no necessary correlation between denominational affiliation and theological insight. It was men with extraordinarily bright theological minds that led me to appreciate liturgy, tradition, and the sacraments in such a way that really opened my eyes to the sheer breadth of Christ's Church, teaching me how narrow my own theological outlook was. As a result, I had come to expect that the higher church denominations would be bastions of homiletic richness. It came much to my surprise, then, that many Anglicans, Catholics, and Orthodox are no more naturally blessed in biblical exposition than a non-denominational preacher in a small country church. The sermons in the "high traditions" are just as rife with moralism and pious platitudes as those of any other tradition.

Of course, the merit of those higher church traditions is that the Ministry of the Word is not reduced to the homily. The Word is fed to the people by means of several lectionary readings, psalm chantings, and creedal recitations in addition to the sermon. Much more, the written prayers are shot-through with biblical language such that, even if the present minister is a shoddy exegete (or is disinterested in exegesis altogether), the gospel can still be proclaimed. In fact, these churches have the virtue of decentralizing the role of a single man in their worship, preventing the frequent problem of churches built around celebrity preachers (personality cults).

I know where to go for brilliant homiletics, I think. But a mere sermon does not Christian worship make. It's part of it, to be sure - but only that.

This is how we do it - in exile

8AM - here.
10AM - here.
6PM - here.

And next Sunday: here.