Wednesday, August 31, 2005


John Piper's church, Bethlehem Baptist, has lowered its requirements for church membership (while simultaneously raising the bar doctrinally for elders). Hopefully this will lead (in its own small way) to greater unity among Christians who may disagree with one another on less than essential points of doctrine (e.g. baptism). From

After more than three years of study and prayer and discussion of this issue, the Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ. That is, we have come to the conclusion that it is seriously questionable to say to a person who gives good evidence of being a true Christian and who wants to join Bethlehem: you may not join.

This conclusion raises problems of consistency for our present Constitution and By-Laws and our present church Affirmation of Faith and Church Covenant. These documents hold up some less than essential beliefs that must be affirmed in order to be a member at Bethlehem. Thus the door to membership at Bethlehem at the present time is significantly narrower than the door to membership in the universal body of Christ. The elders believe this should be changed because of how serious it is to exclude in principle any truly born-again lover of Christ from membership in the local church.

The most obvious change this involves is allowing the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership.

Read the rest of the article.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

In Good Company

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Worst. Video. Ever. Period. Seriously.

This is honestly so bad that I have nothing to say:

The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

I'll leave it at what the website says: "This item serves as a warning to never lay off actors. Ever."


Little House on the Prairie vs. the Gothic South

Today I was talking with a friend about literature, and I came to the realization that certain Nebraska Writers (none named in particular, and with no comparison made to Thoreau) are simply boring because they write about Nebraska. I used to wish we could claim Faulkner as our state author, but now I realize that if Faulkner had lived in Nebraska, his books would probably be boring too.

Don't get me wrong. Nebraska lives up to its title "The Good Life." Things aren't bad here; they're just boring. There's not a dark, gothic history woven into the fabric of the land like there is in the South. Nor is there the experimental, "progressive" attitude of Europe or other big cities. Everything's pretty straightforward here. We're content with where we're at and we're proud of our consistently uneventful history. Let's be honest. Our pioneer ancestors stopped here not so much because they liked the land, but because they didn't want the risk and unknown that awaited them in the Rockies and the west coast.

(smooth segue into music)

Speaking of the dark mystery of the South, I've found that David Eugene Edwards captures this in his music the way Faulkner does in his books. I can think of no author/musician combination that goes so well together. Edwards' 16 Horsepower album "Folklore" captures the desperate fallenness of humanity through the particular historico-cultural context of the American South.

Some excerpts (from Edwards in general, not just "Folklore"):

Hutterite Mile
Iron sharpens iron
Crooked wooden peacock black
I have your feathers
Slung across my back
I'm not the only one
To help you down the hill
My blue knuckles do as they will

Sparrow Falls
What stands between us
Runs right through my head
It's water still under the bridge
We come together in a horsehead union
Hang my tobacco hands from a beam
Silver handled and chest of drawers
Out of the longhouse I took what's yours
I took what's yours

Strong Man

The strong man he will kneel down
Whilst angels strip him of cloak and crown
Through bitter lips come vile breath
He is the last one to confess

There will be no pity for him
We must kill him where he stands
No there will be no mercy for him
Nor for any of his clan

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God is Love and God is God

This morning, I listened to an amazing sermon by John Piper about why God would inspire biblical texts that are difficult to interpret and understand, given that he is omniscient as well as a perfect communicator. Piper's main ideas were that difficult texts make us more dependent on God as we strive for understanding:
Open my eyes, that I may behold
   wondrous things out of your law.
(Psalm 119:18)

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
(2 Timothy 2:7)

After noting this, he then went on to extoll the virtues of education's being a God-ordained institution of transmitting not only knowledge about God, but also the ability to think, meditate, and ponder God. As I listened to this, I kept nodding my head, completely agreeing with our need of education in terms of our need to understand God more and more.

With about 12 minutes or so of his sermon left, though, he stated that he wanted to "balance things out." He then went on to start with the premises, God is love and God is God. God, Piper argued, is both characterized in his simplicity (God is love, and he is accessible even to a simple child) and his infinite complexity (God is God, and there is no one like him). Piper's most profound statement was this:

That God is love tends to create extroverts and evangelists; that God is God tends to create introverts and mystics. That God is love helps foster a folk ethos, and that God is God helps foster a fine ethos....[Folk] ethos revels in the intimacy of God. That God is God unleashes another ethos...and those who are gripped by this impulse revel in the transcendent majesty of God.
The point, he argued, is not to create some churches who specialize in one thing or the other; instead, the point is that we all must strive--despite the fact that we all lean one way or the other--to see God as both simultaneously simple and profound, intimate and unfathomable.

That said, I am involved in a college ministry that strives to make God accessible to everyone; I am also on the fringes of another college ministry that strives to plumb the depths of God's infinite being. Personally, I lean toward the latter, the "God is God" side of things, but I have always been struck by the genuine nature of the faith held by some people I know who certainly lean toward the "God is love" side.

I suppose the first thing I must do is repent (again) of all the times I have felt contempt for those who have little interest in tackling the mysteries of the universe, because I bet that my intellectual nature can sometimes seem quite cold to those who gain the greatest satisfaction from crying "Abba! Father!"

Sometimes, though, this problem can be merely a misunderstanding. I have often felt that, when a person is trying to emphasize one aspect of something because he is speaking to a people who either reject or dimish that aspect's importance, it can come off that the person either minimizes or rejects the other aspect's importance, when he simply wished that the other aspect would be the common ground of the conversation. For example, when speaking as a Calvinist to a group of Arminians, I might emphasize so strongly God's sovereignty and providence, that the Arminians might think that I do not believe at all in human responsibility. Indeed, we must be careful in our speech as well as in our thoughts.

Ultimately, though, Piper's sermon raised two very large issues on which I desparately need prayer and meditation:

  1. By the grace of God, I must personally grow to revel in God's intimacy and simplicity; and
  2. By the grace of God, I need to help those who lean toward the "God is love" side to see how great and awesome and mysterious and profound our God is.

Is this what is means to be truly human?

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Here's a not-so-interesting question Jacob and I were discussing earlier tonight: does the word "lie" always include with its meaning the intention to deceive?

According to Merriam-Webster, it does not. "b: an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker." Thus if I told someone it was raining outside and it wasn't, but I believed it to be raining outside, I would be lying.

I have to disagree with good ol' MW on this one. I think "lying" always means (or at least implies) intentional deceit. Someone who argues for untrue beliefs that they believe are true is not lying, but is just wrong. What they are telling is simply an untruth, not a lie.

I think the terms "lie," "lying," and "liar" get tossed around a lot more in political and religious discourse than they should be. They seem (even if MW disagrees with me) to always indicate a malicious, deceitful intent on the part of the other party which is not always actually there.



(Note: I revised this a bit since I posted it this morning.)
I'm curious as to what you think about how well an analogy holds that I've been thinking about for a couple of years, primarily regarding Romans 13:8-10 (although other texts either support this idea or say virtually the same thing):
8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

My analogy is that the Law is like a portrait of the most beautiful woman (or man--switch genders as appropriate for your own gender) in the world; the painting itself is beautiful, and it represents something in real life that is beautiful, but in itself, not actually real. The portrait even could be so beautiful that it makes a man fall in love with the painting itself, but, try as he might to love the painting as he would a real person, his best efforts would be futile.

If, however, the actual woman of whom the painting was made came into the life of the man who had fallen in love with her, a real, genuine relationship with the woman might ensue. Then, when everything is said and done (for example, with a marriage between the woman and the man), the man finds that he loves the painting of the woman even more than he had originally. For example, he might put the painting in the place of greatest honor in the couple's new home. This is not, of course, because the painting itself has become something better, but because he appreciates the painting all the more for the person behind it.

My argument from the analogy would be, then, that genuine love wrought by the Holy Spirit would be the reality, with the Law being merely the painting. In other words, the law itself is a picture of how a Spirit-filled person would live; the goal, however, is not to live up to the law if that means trying to do it apart from the Spirit. Not only would such a goal be impossible to attain, but it would also miss the point that the law is only a means to an end (the end being glorifying God). Using the metaphor of circumcision, Paul writes:

25For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:25-29)

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Monday, August 22, 2005

T vs. Modernity

A thought (probably neither original nor of particular weight) just struck me:

The doctrine of total depravity provides the necessary corrective against the Enlightenment rationalism of modernity. By stating that sin has affected every part of our being, including the intellect, the doctrine makes a similar critique of modernity as that of post-modernity: the impossibility of the intellect to discover objective truth on its own.

And as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that I probably stole the idea from Wright who sometimes says, "Perhaps it is the role of post-modernity to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity." However, I'd perhaps add that if total depravity had been properly understood and taught in Christian circles, such postmodern critique would be unnecessary today.

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Conquering the Qur'an

As an introduction to the History of Islam class that I will be taking this semester, our professor handed out a New York Times article from August 20, 2002 entitled, "Assigned Reading on Koran in Chapel Hill Raises Hackles." Unfortunately, the New York Times requires people to purchase articles after a certain period of time, so I am unable to link to it. Christian Science Monitor, however, has this equivalent, but, basically, the University of North Carolina (a public university) required that incoming freshmen read a book about the Qur'an. Conservative Christian groups sued, saying that public schools should not "indoctrinate" in this way.

Of course, it has been three years since this issue broke, but, since it came up today, I really wanted to blog some thoughts I had today (as well as three years ago). More than anything, I have to wonder what really bothers these Christian groups that sued to ban the requirement. Is it that (1) they are afraid that, after students (perhaps even Christian students) read the Qur'an, they will convert to Islam (or, at least have a more pluralistic perspective); or that (2) they are simply angry that the Qur'an gets more public facetime than does the Bible? I think that both motivations play into the seething anger of this lawsuit, but I really do not think that either reservation actually poses much of a threat to Christianity.

I think that motivation (1) should raise questions about the faith of people who would sue on that basis: do they actually believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God? If so, why should they be afraid to look at opposing viewpoints? I like what the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1, part V) has to say about the Bible:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The Qur'an, of course, would have no such authority vested in it by the Holy Spirit, so what can possibly be so fearful about it? The more I read the Bible, the more I become persuaded of its truthfulness. It seems to me that when we bring every viewpoint possible to the table, Christ will win out in the end, at least among those to whom God graciously chooses to reveal himself. An attempt to stifle the consideration of any viewpoint seems to betray an insecurity in the truthfulness of one's position. Nay, but let God be true while allowing every man (and writing thereof) to prove himself to be a liar!

As for motivation (2), I have become increasingly frustrated over the years with Christians who, God bless them, actually think that Christianity's success depends on irrelevent things such as whether or not we can get blocks of granite in courthouses and in public parks. I see our winning elections and court decisions in this realm as having nothing to do with our call to make disciples.

All that said, I think that I must clarify myself here: I think that the primary duty of Christians is, by the grace of God, to push back evil wherever they find it. In this case of reading a book about the Qur'an, I think that it can only be pushed back effectively if it is revealed for what it is: not necessarily as a book inciting and encouraging violence (I have not read nearly enough of it to make such a sweeping judgment), but certainly as a book making moral demands (not necessarily even the correct demands) on human beings without informing them of the salvation only possible through the atonement made by Jesus Christ to his Father on our behalf. Indeed, they do this by showing them another gospel--not that there actually is any other gospel. If we Christians are to actively promote the freedom of speech and of thought (which I very much think that we should do), we cannot adopt a "let go and let God" mindset in terms of how to get such "broad-thinking" individuals to narrow their thoughts to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ--we must be vigilant in spreading the truth even as we allow all the usurpers of God's glory to make their case.

And the beauty of the gospel of Jesus is that we don't simply have to muster up our own strength to save the souls (via the minds) of mankind; Jesus Christ has already done what is necessary to provide us the grace to live vigilantly if we but trust him for it. I didn't really know, though, how to explain all of this in the ten minutes' class discussion we had.

Oh, and the by way, I found it very ironic that one of the only Christian supporters for reading the book about the Qur'an was the faculty advisor for Campus Crusade for Christ:

Still, Fred Eckel, faculty adviser for the Campus Crusade for Christ, says that studying a variety of religious texts may not be a bad idea, especially since the school already has an energetic religious-studies department.

"As a person who supports prayer in schools, it makes no sense to object to the use of other religious texts in the classroom, as long as the discussions are appropriate," Professor Eckel says. "It's a positive thing to discuss issues in the Koran, and it may also further discussions that need to be going on within the Christian community."

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Blast from the Past

Here's a fun trip down memory avenue (why not? why must it always be "lane"?). The comments in response to this post constituted the War of American Literature of 2004. Good times, good times.


Hi, this post is all about Henry David Thoreau, REAL THOREAU. This post is awesome. My name is Andrew and I can't stop thinking about Thoreau. This guy is cool; and by cool, I mean totally sweet.

1. Henry David Thoreau was a mammal.

2. Henry David Thoreau tended his bean field ALL the time.

3. The purpose of the Henry David Thoreau was to live in a shack in the woods and criticize modern society.



Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Authority of Scripture

This is long and I don't have time to comment on it right now (not that I really know what I'd say), but I'd like to hear any of y'all's (whoa...two apostrophes in one word...) thoughts on this article by John Franke if you so choose. From what I can tell, this is roughly N.T. Wright's view on the authority of scripture as well. You can read it in the context of the rest of the article here.


The point of departure for this affirmation of Scripture as the norming norm for theology lies in the Protestant principle of authority articulated in confessions such as The Westminster Confession of Faith, which states: “The Supreme Judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of counsels, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” This statement reflects the concern of the Reformed tradition to bind Word and Spirit together as a means of providing the conceptual framework for authority in the Christian faith and brings into focus the sense in which the Bible is conceived of as the norming norm for theology.

The assertion that our final authority is the Spirit speaking through Scripture means that Christian belief and practice cannot be determined merely by appeal to either the exegesis of Scripture carried out apart from the life of the believer and the believing community or to any “word from the Spirit” that stands in contradiction to biblical exegesis. The reading and interpretation of the text is for the purpose of listening to the voice of the Spirit who speaks in and through Scripture to the church in the present. This implies that the Bible is authoritative in that it is the vehicle through which the Spirit speaks. In other words, the authority of the Bible, as the instrument through which the Spirit speaks, is ultimately bound up with the authority of the Spirit. Christians acknowledge the Bible as Scripture because the Spirit has spoken, now speaks, and will continue to speak with authority through the canonical texts of Scripture. The Christian community came to confess the authority of Scripture because it experienced the power and truth of the Spirit of God through writings that were, according to their testimony and confession, “animated with the Spirit of Christ.” Following the testimony of the church of all ages, we too look to the biblical texts to hear the Spirit’s voice. In declaring the biblical canon to be closed at the end of the fourth century the church implicitly asserted that the work of the Spirit in inspiration had ceased. However, this did not mark the end of the Spirit’s activity in connection with Scripture. On the contrary, the Spirit continues to speak to succeeding generations of Christians through the text in the ongoing work of illumination...

...Through Scripture, the Spirit continually instructs the church as the historically extended community of Christ’s followers in the midst of the opportunities and challenges of life in the contemporary world. The Bible is the instrumentality of the Spirit in that the Spirit appropriates the biblical text for the purpose of speaking to us today. This act of appropriation does not come independently of what traditional interpretation has called “the original meaning of the text.” Careful exegesis is required in an effort to understand the “original” intention of the authors by determining what they said. However, the speaking of the Spirit is not bound up solely with the supposed “original intention” of the author. Contemporary proponents of “textual intentionality” such as Paul Ricoeur explain that although an author creates a literary text, once it has been written, it takes on a life of its own. While the ways in which the text is structured shape the “meanings” the reader discerns in the text, the author’s intentions come to be “distanced” from the “meanings” of the work. In this sense, a text can be viewed metaphorically as “having its own intention.” This “textual intention” has its genesis in the author’s intention but is not exhausted by it. Therefore, we must not conclude that exegesis alone can exhaust the Spirit’s speaking to us through the text. While the Spirit appropriates the text in its internal meaning, the goal of this appropriation is to guide the church in the variegated circumstances of particular contemporary settings. Hence, we realize that the Spirit’s speaking does not come through the text in isolation but rather in the context of specific historical-cultural situations and as part of an extended interpretive tradition.

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Yet Another Reply

Having thought about this stuff a bit more, I first want to address your second point, about narrative.

I'm beginning to think the question I originally addressed ("narrative" vs. "system") is not really important. Part of my reason for this is that narrative seems a very broad category and encompasses all sorts of things I previously would have classified as merely "propositional" (such as my quote from the Westminster Confession.) Here Peter Lamarque's "On Not Expecting Too Much from Narrative" (in the journal which I mentioned last time) has been extremely helpful. He begins by defining narrative:

"So what exactly is narrative? To narrate is to tell a story but the minimal conditions for storytelling or for what counts as a story are indeed minimal. One condition is that a story must be told, it is not found. More on that later. Another is that at least two events must be depicted in a narrative and there must be some more or less loose, albeit non-logical, relation between the events. Crucially there is a temporal dimension in narrative, not just in the sense that component sentences are tensed but there must be a temporal relation between the events, even if just that of simultaneity. ‘The sun shone and the grass grew’ is a narrative but ‘Bill kicked the ball and the ball was kicked by Bill’ is not because the latter does not involve two events temporally related but a single event represented in logically equivalent sentences. Narratives can be identified from formal features alone of individual sentences or sentence strings and no implications about reference, truth, subject matter, or discursive ends, can be drawn from such formal identification. Narrative per se is neutral on such matters, in the sense that narratives can be about real or imaginary entities, they can be true or false (or truth-valueless, depending on one’s view of fiction), they can be about virtually any subject, and can serve a multitude of ends, from entertaining or informing to philosophising. Very little of substance can be inferred from the premise that a piece of discourse is a narrative."

[At this point I realized people might be getting bored with our discussion so I thought I'd add a dancing hamster.]

Based on this definition of narrative, many basic propositional statements (like the Westminster quotation) are narrative, despite their lack of poetic/storytelling/fictional elements. I think one of the reasons the Emergent people seem so excited about narrative is they only have in mind a certain type of narrative (fictional) where there no actual correspondance between the narrative and the "outside world". Thus, when they think of narrative as comprising most of life, they think of life as a sort of create-reality-through-narrative that appeals to the postmodern mind. (I'm sure I'm grossly over-generalizing.) Lamarque says:

"The mistake is to treat some particular modes of narrative, notably fictional narrative, as archetypal. Narrative is not identical with fiction and to classify a discourse as narrative has no implications for reference, truth-valuation, or any other kinds of value."

All this to say, Lamarque's piece has challenged my naive acceptence that "narrative" is somehow different and automatically priveleged to propositional truth statements in describing reality.

Regarding the first discussion of logic and Christianity: At the heart of logic is the principle of non-contradiction. It is impossible for something to be both A and not A at the same time. This basic principle has to be true of God as well, if we're even going to say that God is logical and mean anything close to what is commonly meant by "logical". My point then is that if someone points out a real contradiction in Christianity (such as "God is loving" and "God is not loving," as opposed to "God is loving" and "God is just" which is not a contradiction) we either have to admit that something we believe is wrong, or that what we believe is true, but illogical. I gathered from the passage that Chesterton wouldn't really have a problem with saying the latter (although I think what he means by "logic" might differ from what we're talking about here). But if we go that route, we can no longer say that Christianity is completely logical, which is what Clark and you (and I) wanted to say in the first place. Also, if we go that route, we can no longer critique other systems of belief as being false because they are illogical (contradictory, inconsistent, or "self-imploding") because we have ourselves claimed that Christianity is contradictory but true.

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A further response

(I am responding to Andrew's comment here. The commenting system would have limited the HTML that can be used, and I am again wanting to boost my permanent stats.)

Good points. I'll see what I can do about responding, and I will respond with numbers corresponding the points you made with your numbers (i.e., my point 1 responds to your point 1, etc...).

(1) To get us on the same page about what "Christian logic" really is, I really like what G.K. Chesterton said in his book, Orthodoxy (chapter 6). He writes:

The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. I give one coarse instance of what I mean. Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were to reckon up the human body; he would at once see that the essential thing about it was that it was duplicate. A man is two men, he on the right exactly resembling him on the left. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes of the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he most felt he was right, he would be wrong.
Now, actual insight or inspiration is best tested by whether it guesses these hidden malformations or surprises. If our mathematician from the moon saw the two arms and the two ears, he might deduce the two shoulder-blades and the two halves of the brain. But if he guessed that the man’s heart was in the right place, then I should call him something more than a mathematician. Now, this is exactly the claim which I have since come to propound for Christianity. Not merely that it deduces logical truths, but that when it suddenly becomes illogical, it has found, so to speak, an illogical truth. It not only goes right about things, but it goes wrong (if one may say so) exactly where the things go wrong. Its plan suits the secret irregularities, and expects the unexpected. It is simple about the simple truth; but it is stubborn about the subtle truth. It will admit that a man has two hands, it will not admit (though all the Modernists wail to it) the obvious deduction that he has two hearts. It is my only purpose in this chapter to point this out; to show that whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology, we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth.

I think Chesterton is really onto something here--for example, Christianity would say that right living generally makes life easier (e.g., if I abstain from sexual behavior before marriage, I do not have to worry about diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and the extreme emotional and psychological pain that comes from sex outside marriage), but Christianity does not go so far as to say that bad things never happen to good people (for the best example of such a doctrine, see the crucifixion of Jesus). I am not sure how I would formulate a logical expression from this, but I think that it can be reasonably argued that such a doctrine "fits":

This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key. (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, ch. 6)

You ask, "Can't [other worldviews] too say that their system is consistent, if only we were able to properly understand it?" Again, I would point to Chesterton's work (he really grows on a person--I can see not only what C.S. Lewis saw in him, but how it affected the way he thought about Christianity). I am not familiar enough with the books to point you to specific passages, but his works, especially Everlasting Man, provide penetrating insight into why various other religions implode on themselves.

So, returning to the question of logic, I do not think that Christianity lends itself to logic in the sense that we might be able to make a proof that would once and for all prove Christianity's correctness. I do, however, think that we can reasonably argue Christianity, but, in doing so, I think that we must appeal to things in the universe that are both more basic and more ethereal than the sorts of things we are used to deal with. (This last statement would take an extremely long post to explain fully, so I'm just going to leave it at that for the time being.)

(2) I would actually say that what you quoted from the Westminster Confession is not actually narrative, but propositional--notice that it simply declares what has happened without actually leading us through the process of what happened. I think that what you would make of narrative (based solely on your calling this example "narrative") would make absolutely every conceivable sentence narrative. The distinction, I think, has more to do with elements of poetry and of story-telling than with whether facts are presented in a linear, logical fashion.

For example, Christ's parable of the prodigal son was narrative because Christ used story-telling techniques (plot, character development, imagery, etc...). If Christ had instead summed up his teaching by saying something like, "Our father in heaven is so gracious that, even if you stray as far away as possible, he is ready to greet you with open arms at yourepentancece," he would be giving a more propositional explanation of who God is (i.e., "God's character is such that..."). It almost seems like this could be narrative, because there is a kind of linear progression (1. You stray; 2. You repent; 3. God welcomes you with open arms), but this is not "narrative" per se.

As far as my Oxford English Dictionary comment, what I was trying to get at (albeit not very well) is that our systematic theology textbooks are arranged to cover every nuance of a particular theological term (as a dictionary would cover every nuance of a particular term), instead of moving us through a progression of a story (as a novel would). So, as I said in my last post, systematic/propositional theology causes us to "descend" onto a framework of truth (each piece being buttressed by texts from across the Bible) instead of moving through a story, with all the parts moving in and out of the spotlight.

Those are my thoughts, but keep in mind that I have not read the piece you suggested yet.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On the telly

Did anyone else who watched the Tommy Lee Show think that the show was not so much an "embarassment to a serious academic institution," but just boring? I did enjoy watching my friend Matt, though.
In addition to the Tommy Lee show, I watched all of the first season of The Office. I thought that it was absolutely hilarious--sort of a cross between Office Space and Christopher Guest mockumentaries. I think its success proved, though, what I have been saying for a long time about the problem with many zany comedies: the key to success is to have one (or, at the most, two) flamboyant characters, with the rest being quite normal. When everyone is silly, the movie/show ends up just being cheesy.


A Response to my Learned Colleague

In Andrew's last post, he wrote a section on some of his recent thinking. I started to write a comment to respond, but I thought I'd just go ahead and post this--it boosts my posting stats.

First, I would like to say that I agree with Clark and Schaeffer that all that God does is absolutely logical. That said, I think that it might be somewhat arrogant to think that we can figure out exactly how the "system" of the Bible works. God makes it pretty clear that his thoughts and ways our higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

So, given that:

  1. We are fallen creatures;
  2. We are not omniscient; and
  3. We are futile in our thinking (Romans 1:21),
I think that it's safe to say the following:
  1. God is perfectly consistent (i.e., logical);
  2. We are perfectly consistent as well, but while God's consistency focuses on glorifying himself, we instead glorify ourselves and our fellow creatures (Romans 1:21-23);
  3. Because of (2), our "logic" will never be free to plumb the depths of God's wisdom, unless God himself reveals his wisdom to us (e.g., Matthew 16:17)

As for the narrative and the propositional systems, I think that their differences are most similar to the differences between different languages. In any language, a single word can be almost infinitely nuanced because of how the word might have been used in slang, famous speeches, advertising slogans, and countless other sorts of ways. So, where a word in one language might suitably focus (or make ambiguous, for that matter) an idea, properly translating that word might be somewhat difficult, and a perfect translation would be nearly impossible. I would argue, therefore, that the problem is not that God is illogical, but rather that we do not have the ability to translate his message perfectly from the language of narrative to the language of definitions.

You asked specifically "whether a particular truth can be equally represented in narrative and abstract propositional system." I think that the truth can be equally represented, but I also think that you would be going from something like a novel to something like the Oxford English Dictionary in order to bring out all the facets of the truth. That is why Jesus chose to tell stories--they are simple, but the more you think about them, the more wisdom you gain from them.

Learning, then, was more of a horizontal process for Jesus--a person would get a story and think more and more about it, mining more and more truths as he went along. For us, though, learning is a vertical process where we sort of try to come down and land on a whole framework of truth. I don't think that such a process is necessarily bad, but I do think that we must understand our limitations.

In any case, I think that in presenting the gospel, we must meet people where they are--if they need to see how the big picture works before they can start to understand the little parts, let us by all means provide them with a systematic theology to the best of our understanding. If, however, their questions are much more along the lines of an orphaned child looking for a loving Father, we perhaps should begin with the parables Jesus used.

So that's what I think, but I recognize that I too am futile in my thinking. What were the answers you were coming up with?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Reading Lately:
-The Life of Charles Hodge by A.A. Hodge
-The German Education of Christian Scholar Philip Schaff: the Formative Years, 1889-1844 by Klaus Penzel
-other stuff related to 19th century American theologians' education in Germany (thesis stuff)
-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (still about a chapter a week or so)

Listening Lately:

The Velvet Underground & Nico
Sufjan Stevens - Michigan and Illinois
Radiohead - various
Dave Matthews Band - various
Sigur Ros - ()
Bob Marley - various

Thinking Lately:

I've recently listened to some apologetics lectures by the philosopher Gordon Clark and he stressed the idea of Christianity (specifically in its Reformed expression) as a system that all works together logically and consistently. (Francis Schaeffer seems to make a similar point.) When people accuse him of subordinating God or theology to logic, he replies that logic is simply the way God thinks. Therefore to say God is "bound" by logic makes no more sense than saying that God is bound by his love or justice. Thus, all theology forms a logically consistent system and if it doesn't, there's a problem.

As a Christian and philosophy major, I generally agree. But every once in a while the PoMo part of me starts to question whether the truth presented in the Bible can really be condensed into a perfectly logical system of propositional truth. On the one hand, if the truth revealed in the Bible isn't logical, we have a problem. If the law of non-contradiction doesn't hold, it becomes meaningless for us to say that God is good because it might be just as true that he is evil. So it seems like logic must hold in order for us to make any sense of God's word. But then when I read the narratives that fill much of the Bible, I start wondering if the writers ever intended for it to be extracted and placed into a modernistic systematic framework.

I suppose my real question is whether a particular truth can be equally represented in narrative and abstract propositional system. Or do the two formulations give their own unique coloring to the truth? (Or in Neil Postman's words, does "the medium control the message"? Why did Jesus prefer to tell stories about the kingdom and God rather than present a complete, concise, propositional system, and why do our Gospel presentations often look more like the latter rather than the former? More questions than answers on my part...

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Desiring God

I have of late been entranced by pastor, preacher, and writer John Piper. I just finished his book, The Pleasures of God, and I have started working my way through his Romans sermons series (I've finished about twenty sermons, and we aren't out of chapter 1 yet!).

Briefly, here is what I love about Piper and his theology:

  • He is passionately and intelligently Calvinistic. He brings passages from the entire Bible together to show just how explicitly sovereign the Bible portrays God to be.
  • At the same time, his Calvinism does not become an overly-intellectual exercise that leaves his audience smug with their own knowledge of the Bible and theology, but instead he is committed to glorifying the God of the Bible. He said in a sermon (I'm paraphrasing) that his mission is not to dissect God, but to proclaim him in his glory. Although Piper is not one of the most enjoyable speakers I have ever listened to, his sermons carry great weight because they unashamedly glorify God.
  • He is committed to evangelism and missions. Moreover, his passion for evangelism does not come from a mere emotional desire to keep people from hell (although that component is a large part of his message), but he instead views evangelism and world missions as the means by which the glory of God is proclaimed and God's fame is increased among the nations. His Calvinism does not constrain his idea of evangelism, but permeates through it: he greatly desires to bring those who are Christ's own into the flock (John 10:16).

I wonder, though, how much every ministry should be like his. If I ever pastor a church, would it be wrong to pattern my ministry after his? (I would note that he patterns much of his ministry on that of Jonathan Edwards.) How much room for variation is there among churches where we all serve the same God, but, at the same time, that God takes pleasure in the diversity of his Body?

I guess, though, that I have several years to sort that stuff out. For the time being, I will just keep on reading, praying, and thinking.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Shame and Fear

So...I just looked through the list of blog posts for the summer to find (much to my mortification), that I only posted three times since school got out for the summer. But, since I am justified by faith and not by how many posts I compose, I shall lay aside every weight and the procrastination which clings so closely, and I shall run with endurance the race that is set before me, despising the shame of a naked blog, and I shall begin to post afresh. So here goes...

I went to San Antonio, TX, a couple of weeks ago. To save about $80, I booked a room for the first two days at a Super 8 motel that was "within a mile of the Riverwalk." Before I left, I checked the details on the motel's web site, and got a really bad feeling when one of the motel overview points was, "Don't be deceived by our elegant appearance, our rates are within your budget." What sort of target customer would think a Super 8 motel to be elegant in appearance?

Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and stuck with my reservation. From the airport, I took a shuttle (the best deal to get from the airport to a hotel in San Antonio--they have a very good shuttle system) to my motel. As everyone else was getting dropped off at Hyatts and Westins and Hiltons, the number in the shuttle kept getting lower and lower, until I was the last person to drop off. I understood the reason for this when we started heading to my motel--I was staying in the ghetto part of San Antonio, and it probably would have ruined everyone else's vacation if they saw where I was staying before they went to their upscale hotels.

But, the shuttle driver dropped me off, and, after a word of caution not to walk at night (not that I was planning on it since I had seen graffiti written across the back of my Super 8), he left. After checking in, I went to my room and immediately bolted myself into my outdoor-entrance room. Only half the lightbulbs worked, the clothes rack was falling off the wall, and the bathroom was very dirty. Elegant indeed. Let's just say that I was extremely thankful to switch to the Westin Riverwalk halfway through the week. The Westin's dual shower-head, in-room complimentary Starbucks (!) coffee, and bed that I would have have been happy to die on made up for the Super 8's moldy shower, dirt-based coffee, and bed that could have killed me.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005


So apparently I'm not the first to put a revered Bible teacher's head on Yoda. Though I will say Wiersbe looks a bit more realistic than ol' Sproul. These people need to ditch their PhotoshopElements and "Bring out the GIMP!"


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pool of Siloam Found

"Workers repairing a sewage pipe in the Old City of Jerusalem have discovered the biblical Pool of Siloam, a freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city and the reputed site where Jesus cured a man blind from birth, according to the Gospel of John."
Read More




Sunday, August 07, 2005

Be Force-ful

"When 900 books you write, look as good you will not!"
Credit goes to Jacob for recognizing the similarities between Dr. Wiersbe and Yoda.


Thursday, August 04, 2005


Here's a full Radiohead concert recorded in Germany in 2001. It's pretty decent quality. (Someday I shan't need a recording, for I shall be there. In other news, this is the second time I've used "shan't" in the last half hour.)

Not Radiohead, but I'm currently loving this song: Good Morning, Mr. Edminton


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Woven Hand

MP3s from a group (man?) worthy of consideration:
My Russia
White Bird
The Good Hand
Sparrow Falls