"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What I am reading.

The Wisdom of Crowds:

I would normally be the first to roll my eyes at the title. You know the old saying “A person is smart but people are dumb”. Clearly crowds routinely make some whopper of bad decisions. Runs on banks, the French revolution, crucify him and so forth. But give the right circumstances the author shows again and again how crowds make wiser decisions then the so called “experts”.

Experts scope is limited they also show an inability to look at things from new angles. “Groups that are too much alike find it harder to keep learning” P 31
Experts are also surprisingly bad at what social scientists call “calibrating” their judgments… experts are much like normal people: they routinely overestimate the likelihood that they’re right”

Great upshot quote from P 34 “seer sucker theory: No matter how much evidence exists that seers do not exist, suckers will pay for the existence of seers.”

Anyway the scope of the book seems to be about right. Seek differing opinions, diversify your portfolio, work as a team, Captialism rocks etc.

Disciplines of a Godly Man:

I was told to teach the college group at my church from this book. Pretty good. I like best the list of other books we should read found in the back of this one. HA! But seriously a very good book.

Baptist stuff:

James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham

Yeah that is right I put this under Baptist stuff. Actually Madison (father of our constitution) graduated from Princeton (though it was not named that at the time) and had many Calvinist friends who were out trying to win over souls to Christ. (And applied their Calvinism to the destiny of an independent nation called "America") Madison had great respect for them and the role of religion in civil society though as he grew older and passed the age of “introspection” was not more than a nominal believer. Interestingly though what did move him was non-licensed “Baptist” who were being arrested for preaching. He saw them as:
- Only preaching their conscience to those would listen
- Bringing zeal to morbid Anglicans and Southern Christianity P 58
- As not all that different as the Presbyterians who seemed to preach a similar message.

So for better or worse the Baptists plight seemed to have a large role in forming Madison’s views of religious liberty and his desire to fight for it.

Adoniram Judson on Christian Baptism

William Carey who Baptized Judson after he delivered this as a sermon called it the greatest defense for believer’s baptism he had ever heard. According to the preface and forward this was republished in 2000 because as one said he “thanks God” for the reemergence of Reformed theology it also sparked the need for Judson’s detail of his conversion from paedobaptist to believers baptism. So far so good. He will cover the nature of Abraham's convenant and the differences with the New Convenant. I am not far but enjoying it. As the preface put it while many are discovering Reformed theology for the first time…: "As wonderful as this new discovery is and its subsequent effects upon a man of God, it does not relinquish his need to still examine everything carefully (1 Thess 5:21), even from men whose feet you would feel unworthy to wash. In other words, we must always be on guard so as to not feel that we have to buy the whole bag of a theological system or of a man’s teaching without having first allowed it to simmer for a good while in our thinking.”
Upshot, Baptists are bleeding members and leaders to Reformed churches and they call upon the Ghost of Judson to save them. But so far not a bad “Hail Mary” at all! Guess I will throw it out there to all you DTS guys who have gone the same way. :-)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Calvin on the Lord's Supper

"They are preposterous who allow this matter nothing more, than they have been able to reach with the measure of their understanding. When they deny that the flesh and blood of Christ are exhibited to us in the Holy Supper. “Define the mode” they say, “or you will not convince us.” But as for myself, I am filled with amazement at the greatness of the mystery. Nor am I ashamed, with Paul, to confess in admiration my own ignorance. For how much better is that, than to extenuate with my carnal sense what the apostle pronounces a high mystery!"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Augustine and Pelagius Pt. 1: Free Will and the Early Church

When explaining the Christian beliefs, eventually you will come across a wide spread belief in American culture of a benevolent passive God. If you explain that God is good and offers life in His Son, a response will come back that if God is good he will save everyone and wouldn’t be so “not nice” as to send anyone to hell. For a good example of how an informed Christian should respond, see Tim Keller’s talk at Berkley. However, I am not addressing that problem here.

But just like our need to have an answer to the modern objection of passive benevolence, so the early church had to respond to the Greco-Roman culture of their time when presented with the gospel. The early church, in proclaiming the gospel, encountered resistance to the idea that people are responsible before God for their actions. In pagan and Stoic philosophy, the idea (and eventually god) “Fortuna” ruled the universe. To the typical Greco-Roman, everything is fated. To say our sinfulness can be counted against us is to not realize that Fate had made them do bad things, thus they are not responsible.

This philosophy is called Fatalism. True Fatalism destroys human responsibility for sin. Fatalists do not look to a Savior, as they are not responsible for their sin, and thus are in no need of action on their part to find a solution. What will be will be so why worry about it?

This background is essential in understanding the writings of the early church. Much of the New Testament literature argues for Christianity in the background of a Judaic understanding of God and the world. After the New Testament, the early church literature can be seen as a development of what Paul started in Acts 17 in dialoging with the Athenians. One must enter the thought world of an alien culture in order to help them understand another culture. Thus Paul uses the language of Athenian religion and literary culture to communicate ideas to them.

If one reads the early church, one inevitably comes across the phrase “free will.” Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria all talk about it. Many times Reformed Christians can see such references as a misunderstanding of human nature, just as Arminians can see these references as supporting their Enlightenment ideas of a libertarian free will (as Norm Geisler does in just listing the references as if they are definitive because they use the buzz words “free will")

Paying attention to the context, however, we see that the sense and concept they argue for, we too must acknowledge. Clement says the will is “self-determined” but also “nothing happens apart from the will of God” and thus God “permits evil.” Irenaeus wrote that “there is no coercion with God.” Archellaus wrote “To sin is ours, and that we sin not is God’s gift.” All these statements we must acknowledge as true. That we sin is our responsibility. We cannot appeal to fate or providence as an excuse, for we “are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20).

These truths lead to other inevitable questions: Then, are we responsible for our good too? Is salvation our choice? Isn’t true freedom the ability to choose neutrally between good and evil?

These questions were answered differently by two of the church’s rising stars: Pelagius and Augustine. [Part 2, forthcoming]

Friday, July 18, 2008

My soul is satified to know, His Love can never fail

The best hymns teach us. What is the ground of our assurance? Our ability to work or believe? How about:

His Love can Never Fail
by E.S. Hall

1. I do not ask to see the way
My feet will have to tread;

But only that my soul may feed
Upon the living Bread.
'Tis better far that I should walk
By faith close to His side;
I may not know the way I go,
But oh, I know my Guide.

2. And if my feet would go astray,
They cannot, for I know
That Jesus guides my falt'ring steps,

As joyfully I go.
And tho' I may not see His face,
My faith is strong and clear,
That in each hour of sore distress
My Savior will be near.

3. I will not fear, tho' darkness come
Abroad o'er all the land,
If I may only feel the touch
Of His own loving hand.
And tho' I tremble when I think
How weak I am, and frail,
My soul is satisfied to know
His love can never fail.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

RIP Tony Snow

His funeral was today. He was a reporter and political figure and certainly no theologian as far as I know, although I believe he was a practicing Catholic. Anyway I wanted to post something to kind of say good bye, he will be missed. Thanks Tony, your country is better off for having you and is poorer for your early departure. RIP

From President Bush’s remarks:
He said he would often call Snow on the weekends, seeking advice, and find that Snow was absorbed in the lives of children. Snow was invariably cheering on the sidelines of a soccer match, or helping out a child with homework, when he took the presidential phone call.
"He loved you a lot," Bush told the three children. "Today I hope you know that we loved him a lot too."

"As a speechwriter in my dad's administration, Tony tried to translate the president's policies into English," Bush said. "As a spokesman in my administration, Tony tried to translate my English into English."

"I know it’s hard to make sense of today. It is impossible to fully comprehend why such a good and vital man was taken from us so soon. But these are the great mysteries of life — and Tony knew as well as anyone that they’re not ours to unveil. "

K Lo brings some moral and spiritual insight to Tony's life and death here and here. No need for me to restate that which others who knew him can say better.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chrysostom on Eph 5:25

John Chrysostom on Eph 5:25: "Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her." :

You must care for [your wife], as Christ does the church. Even if it is necessary to give your life for her, even if you must be cut into a thousand pieces, even if you must endure any suffering whatever, do not refuse it.

Even if you do suffer this, you will never suffer as much as Christ did. For you are doing it for one with whom you are already joined, but he did it for one who rejected him and hated him. Just as he took the one who had rejected him and hated him and spat on him and despised him, and laid her at his feet, not with threats or violence or fear or anything like that, but with great kindness, so you must behave in a similar way toward your wife. Even if you see her looking down on you and despising you and holding you in disdain, you will be able to lay her at your feet by showing great care and love and affection for her. For nothing has greater power than these bonds, especially between husdand and wife…Even if you suffer in some ways because of her, do not criticize her, for Christ has done nothing of the sort.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

"Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me."

"It is evident from St. Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive church. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the apostles." -John Calvin, letter to the magistrates of Berne

Friday, July 04, 2008

These are grounds of hope for others.


To Roger C. Weightman, Monticello, June 24, 1826
The kind invitation I receive from you, on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration on the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence, as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to control. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the city of Washington and its vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. With my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.

Also something good to look at to think about where we are at right now. Not a spiritual work but pretty good. None the less also spending some time in prayer for the hearts of our land would seem more than appropriate today.

Reflection Day VDH

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Is God our Gospel?

While in the touristy West End district of Dallas, I encountered a team of “missionaries.” These men were engaged in various jobs, some doing a faux magic show, one on a chair preaching and others handing out tracts (an experience I recounted in an earlier post). I took a tract from a man who seemed a little unsure of what he was doing, allowing the printed word to interact with this sea of people rather than the spoken word.

When I returned home, I read the tract. It began interesting enough: Are you a good person? Seems that nothing I do is good enough (I wonder how many people suffered mother-in-law flash backs while reading the tract). The proof for this given by a lengthy discussion about how we all violate the 10 commandments. Then at the end, on two three-inch by two-inch pages it gave the good news! A man named Jesus died and if you believe that, you get to go to heaven. Now, boiling down the gospel into a short presentation is a difficult task, and an admirable project. Yet, the focus of the gospel in this tract was clear: There’s a problem with what you do, some vague event happened with a man named Jesus and now things are better and you get to live forever. This tract exposes some huge blindspots in the way evangelicals present the gospel and even makes me wonder about a decision made on such facts for three reasons:.

1) The focus was on what you do (sin) and not who you are (a sinner)

2) There was no mention about why one would want to be in heaven, namely that God is there to be enjoyed.

3) Most importantly, the tract only gives a few lines to who Jesus is, and never mentions that Jesus was God!

When I married my wife, I wanted to have some sort of “take away” that shared our faith with our guests beyond the homily. I looked through some tracts, but all seemed to have this problem. So, I decided to give the guests a small version of the Gospel of John. The reason? John’s gospel is different from the gospel of most tracts.

A recent fad in Evangelical circles has been looking at John for techniques of how to do evangelism according to Jesus. Best scenario to look at? The woman at the well, where Jesus offers her the bread of life. Principles are drawn out such as meeting someone where they are, or getting into their lives. Yet, we may have missed the message: “seek the bread of life.” Those doing their reading of John 4 as part of their daily devotion might miss the tension of discovering what this bread of life is. The reader must wait until John 6 until this is revealed.

In John 6, after Christ fed a crowd of thousands, the people follow him across the lake to Capernaum (John 6:24). Jesus, perceiving their intentions, pointed to the bread he had given them and told them they should not follow him for food, but Himself. (John 6:26-27) When the crowd again asked for food and another sign in addition to the food already given, Christ knew they did not follow Him for His own sake, but for earthly reward. He was using the bread as an analogy for Himself, declaring: “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)

Instead of trying to perceive the truth Christ was pointing to, the crowd asks “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) Christ, instead of explaining further to the crowd that is now mocking Him, presses the metaphor without explaining it to the level of the ridiculous and ludicrous, insisting that unless they eat his flesh and drink His blood, they will die. (John 6:53) Most of the crowd leaves, and so this becomes a technique I have not heard imitated much in Evangelical seminars…

In John 6:53, Jesus uses language that sounds very Eucharistic, speaking of blood and flesh. The concept being communicated, however, is not the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation, but the necessity of Christ for salvation. Bread is a common metaphor for sustenance. In Psalm 104:14, the Psalmist specifically says God gave “bread [that] sustains the heart of man.” Both the Eucharist and this teaching point to the sustaining aspect of Christ as gained by belief. By Christ all things have their very existence (1 Cor 8:6). On one level all have their very existence in Christ, but those who believe are fed eternally with a manna that does not rot like that of Moses in the desert. (Ex 16) As John Calvin puts it: “Christ is the bread on which we must feed.”

If Christ is our center, the object of our worship and affections, He should be more than a gear, a link, a bridge or a means in our conception of the gospel. Christ certainly provides the way. Did not Christ say he was the Way? The question then is not “Is Christ the means to salvation.” He certainly is. But is Christ also the end of our quest, the prize of our salvation? God tells us He is our reward (Gen 15:1) and the image of our salvation is partaking of God Himself (2 Pet 1:4). Indeed, if we are Reformed, why do we not communicate that our end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever? (WC Q1)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I believe in Free Will

"There is always within us a free will - but it is not always good; for it is either free from righteousness when it serves sin, - and then it is evil, - or else it is free from sin when it serves righteousness, and then it is good. But the grace of God is always good; and by it, it comes to pass that a man is of good will."

-St. Augustine On Grace and Free Will.