Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Joys of Seminary

Classes began today for the Spring semester. Well, I actually only had one class (Church History: Reformation-Present), but it's going to be a doozy. We will have to read almost 3000 pages of books (not counting all the other books we will read to write two 10-page research papers), including a lovely 700-page tome called Creeds of the Churches. This book is bursting with--you guessed it!--creeds, church council decisions, confessions/statements of faith, and even a couple of early church letters thrown in for good measure. The book spans Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist traditions, so I suppose that it will be worthwhile to read, but it will also be extremely boring at parts.

I guess that's what I get for taking a class from a guy who is just finishing up his Ph.D. work at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Of my other four classes, I only have the syllabus for my Hebrew II class. My professor is going to allow us to skip the final if we get A's on all the quizzes and tests through the semester. That's going to be extremely difficult to pull off, but I have already been studying a ridiculous amount for the quiz that we are going to have tomorrow (it will cover the first semester's material).

It feels good (and slightly painful) to get back into the swing of things.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

One Baptism

This morning at a church I was visiting, I witnessed for the first time an infant baptism. When I realized mid-service that one was coming, I actually became really nervous and excited for what was about to take place. I had been anticipating my first infant baptism for a long time, and I was not disappointed: it was a beautiful and holy thing to see.

Ironically, before I knew that an infant baptism was coming, I had seen that same baby squawking during a hymn, and my mind went to Matt. 21:16, where Jesus quoted the Septuagint version of Psalm 8:2: "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise." Thinking about how the baby was participating in worshiping the Lord with her parents, I wondered if she had been or would soon be baptized as a member of the covenant community. About ten minutes later, my question was answered.

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Friday, January 26, 2007


Since I first heard about "Federal Vision" Theology, I've read quite a bit about it on two blogs, The Presbyteer and Blog and Mablog. (Blog and Mablog has something just about every day on the controversy; both this blog and the Presbyteer's are very strongly pro-Federal Vision theology.) Also called "Auburn Avenue Theology" or the "Monroe Doctrine" (Auburn Avenue is the church in Monroe, LA, where much of this theology is being developed), there are some very interesting developments that could significantly shape the landscape of Reformed Theology over the next decade, and perhaps even for many years to come.

[Edit, 1/26/07, 10:37 am: In a comment below, The Presbyteer clarified his position on the matter; also, I realized that Doug Wilson, the author of Blog and Mablog, is not only supportive, but he was one of the contributors for my book on the pro-Federal Vision side. Just wanted to make that clear, lest I misrepresent anyone.]

But, that doesn't mean that this stuff is simple. There are some things these people are saying that seem very logical and natural extensions of the theology that led me to paedobaptism, but there are some things I read and cringe a little bit. The stuff that makes sense seems extremely helpful; the stuff that bothers me seems potentially disastrous.

So, to get a better understanding of the issues, I picked up The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision from the Samford University Library. The book is filled with five papers from "pros," five from "cons," and responses to each paper from the respective "other side" after a weekend of in-person debate and weeks of e-mail exchanges with each other. The whole conference was designed to get rid of misunderstandings surrounding the issue and to get to the big issues. I have only read the first few essays, but I finish up my Puritan Spirituality class this morning, and I will try to spend a good part of the day continuing to read it. My goal is to finish it before my Spring semester classes start on Tuesday, but I can't promise anything. I'll let you know my thoughts in a few days.

Also, in case you were wondering, I haven't forgotten about the third part to my "Outward Sign, Inward Reality" post series (read part one and part two here)--I simply am trying to make sure that I have a really good grasp of the issues before I slap something down I my blog. This Auburn Avenue Theology stuff, for example, is really making me think through a lot of the issues involved in what I would write for the third part. So, I'm making progress toward writing more about baptism, but I'm not even comfortable writing an interim report at this point. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness..."

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Did you know...?

Two items of great interest that I happened upon in the past twenty-four hours:
  1. Did you know that Covenant Theological Seminary (the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America) offers entire sets of lectures for several of their classes for free in mp3 format? With everything from Ancient & Medieval Church History to Youth Ministry, you can essentially sit in on whole classes from Covenant through your iPod. (So far, I have put three classes on mine.) The program is called "Covenant Worldwide."

    What an opportunity! I honestly am so impressed that a seminary would essentially give away its bread and butter that I'm adding a permanent link on our blog to that web site. Perhaps adding a link isn't that much, but I really hope that many take advantage of this.

  2. Did you know that Yahoo! now offers an interesting way to raise money for charitable causes with a search engine called GoodSearch? Essentially, you select a charity, and every internet search you make through GoodSearch earns that charity about $.01 (the money comes from advertisers, not you). A penny isn't really a lot, but it obviously adds up if you have lots of people performing all their searches through that site. A very interesting concept, but I don't know if it would tear me away from Google.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Living by Hearsay

At the end of Part 2 of Pilgrim's Progress, when Mr. Stand-fast is summoned by his Master, who "was not willing that [Stand-fast] should be so far from him any longer." As Stand-fast readies himself to die by crossing the River, so that he might enter the Celestial City, he says:
This River has been a Terror to many, yea the thoughts of it also have often frightened me. But now methinks I stand easy, my Foot is fixed upon that, upon which the Feet of the Priests that bare the Ark of the Covenant stood while Israel went over this Jordan. The Waters indeed are to the Palate bitter, and to the Stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and of the Conduct that waits for me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing Coal at my heart.

I see myself now at the end of my Journey, my toilsome Days are ended. I am going now to see that Head that was Crowned with Thorns and that Face that was spit upon, for me.

I have formerly lived by Hearsay, and Faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him, in whose Company I delight myself...

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I Love Nebraska Update

For those who were interested, I received the following e-mail today from Sen. Burling about what I had sent him concerning his bill to change the state song:
Dear Jacob,

Thank you for contacting me with your opinions on Legislative Bill 345 to change the Nebraska State Song. I introduced this legislation to provide a forum for the opponents and proponents to express their wishes on the subject.

Please never hesitate to contact me with your opinions and concerns in the future.

Senator Carroll Burling
District 33

That might be the least committed statement a human being could possibly make.

Seriously, though, from my time working as a page in the Legislature, I do know that they take very seriously these sorts of e-mails, phone calls, and letters. He was being very honest when he urged me contact him whenever I have opinions. In my experience, most of Nebraska's legislators similarly want to hear from their constituents.

As cynical as we might be about politics in general, I have a lot of respect for how the Legislature works.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Denarii and Denial of Self

Last semester, I wrote a paper for my biblical hermeneutics class that analyzed Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the vineyard laborers. Many people (notably Craig Blomberg, who wrote the New American Commentary on Matthew) understand the parable as teaching that there are no levels of rewards in heaven--all are treated equally, despite how they have lived their lives.

Personally, I find this to be a very difficult thesis to support, both in light of the parable itself (which I will deal with shortly) and in light of other Scriptural teaching. The most obvious example would seem to be 1 Cor. 3:10-15, where Paul tells us that our life's work will one day be revealed either as gold, silver, precious stones, wood, and/or hay--some of our work will last forever, and other parts of it will be burned up in the Judgment. But even in the very same chapter of this parable (Matt. 20:20-28), Jesus speaks that there are some who will sit at his right hand, and some who will not; he goes on to say that there will be a direct correlation between those who will be the greatest in heaven and those who are the least in this life. (More on this after I address the parable of the vineyard laborers.)

So, I argued instead (based largely on a discussion with Warren Wiersbe) that the parable is about limiting God by seeking to get a contract from him on what we will gain from our service. Briefly, my rationale goes like this: the first group of laborers get the landowner to agree (v. 2) on a denarius for their work, but all the other groups of laborers simply agree to work for "whatever is right" (v. 4). In the end, those who had simply agreed to work out of faith in the employer's fairness get much more money than they deserve--they gain a denarius for working less than an entire day, when the standard wage of that period for an entire day's work was a denarius.

On the other hand (the shocking part of the parable), when the first group of laborers complain about getting only a denarius, the reply of the landowner is twofold: (1) "Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?" (v. 13, my emphasis)--in other words, the landowner points out that he had acted absolutely fairly in rewarding them according to their prior agreement; and (2) "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?" (v. 15)--it is the landowner's prerogative to pay his laborers more than they "deserve."

So, in my opinion, here is the point of the parable:

  • First, God is absolutely just--not even in the way he dispenses his grace can he be charged with being unfair.
  • Second, it is wrong to treat God as though he were a hard master from whom we need a contract if we are to be treated fairly, because this view of God reduces the way we live as Christians to nothing more than punching a clock so that we might earn "wages" in heaven. Not only is it wrong to treat God this way, but we lose out on experiencing the fullness of the grace of God.
  • So, the proper attitude of a Christian is to do whatever God calls us to do whenever he calls us to do it, all the while completely trusting in his goodness toward those who love him and are called according to his purposes--we should not be driven by a bottom line in our obedience to God.

I write all this because, as I was reading again through Matt. 20 yesterday, I noticed that this is essentially the same message that Jesus teaches James, John, and their mother at the end of this same chapter in Matt. 20:20-28. Here, Jesus gives us standing orders to make ourselves the least among the brethren in order that we might be counted the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. The problem is that, if we do this with a goal of earning a great reward ("Sure I'm able to drink your cup, Jesus--shouldn't that buy me a good seat in heaven?"), we will eventually find out that we missed the point. That sort of a life is an attempt to bargain with God for something (in this case, position and prestige in heaven) rather than living with complete confidence in the Master's fairness and generosity.

It seems, then, that we have a paradox: how can we possibly live with a goal of being first in the kingdom of Heaven (something Jesus seems to encourage, since he himself is the one who gives away the secret to being first, and since that secret--i.e., becoming a servant--is at the heart of all of his ethical teaching for us) when living with the sole purpose of gaining a reward was the mistake of the first group of vineyard laborers?

As I meditated upon this question, I noticed the following verses, which serve as Matthew's transition between the parable of the vineyard laborers and the story of Mother Zebudee (that is, this is the only thing between the two stories I have been discussing):

17And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18"See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day." (Matt. 20:17-19)
I think Matthew included this statement at this place for a purpose--the resolution to the tension between the vineyard laborers and the Sons of Zebudee is found in this aspect of Jesus' life. He alone obeyed his Father's will perfectly for his entire life (i.e., he worked the entire day in the vineyard), and he did so by making himself the slave of all, for "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). So, it should come as no surprise to us that:
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
If we would be first in the kingdom, we must become a slave (like Jesus did) with humility that seeks servanthood in order to deny self and glorify God in all things (like Jesus' humility). If we would be first, we must become more like Jesus both in our actions and in our attitudes.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ein' Feste (Wart)Burg

Luther's Study
Originally uploaded by ahansen54.
Today my daytrip was to the Wartburg castle, just outside of Eisenach. The castle is most famous for being the year-long hiding place of Junker Jörg (Martin Luther's pseudonym while in hiding) after his appearance at the Diet of Worms. Here, in the span of ten weeks, Luther made the first translation of the New Testament from its original Greek into German.

When asked what he did during his year in the Wartburg, he reportedly replied, "I fought the devil with ink," referring to his translation. Sadly, many tourists during the last four hundred years (the first "so-and-so was here" I saw etched into the wall was from 1602) have taken his statement a bit too literally and took home souvenir pieces from a large ink-stain on his wall, leaving a large hole. They also destroyed his original desk, and thus the one you see in the picture is a different one from his parents' house.

Luther's small study isn't much bigger than my own small room in Göttingen, so if he can do it for a year, so can. Although I probably won't be changing the course of history by putting the Bible in common hands for the first time. Or will I....?

No, I won't.

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I Love Nebraska (But Not Like This)

I had heard in the news that Nebraska Legislative Senator Carroll Burling (my senator, representing the 33rd District) had introduced a bill (LB 345) that proposes to change the state song from "Beautiful Nebraska" to some country song performed by a woman in our district. I hadn't heard the song until today, when I read some commentary on this particular bill at another blog. I suppose this bill, in itself, might be an argument in favor of term limits.

At least with "Beautiful Nebraska"--which, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is cheesy--we can defend our state pride by pointing out that it was written a long time ago, when all songs were cheesy. I read that one of Burling's motivational factors was to provide a "contemporary sound" (or something like that) to our state song. Well, if this is contemporary, I want a time machine. "I Love Nebraska" is simply awful. It almost makes me want to stay in Alabama. (Almost, mind you.)

Listen to it for yourself:

UPDATE (10:21 AM, 1/20/07): I wrote the following e-mail to Sen. Burling in opposition of LB 345. If you would like to contact your state senator, you can get their e-mail addresses here. This, of course, assumes that you know the district in which you live. If you don't, you can find your district number here.
Hon. Senator Burling--

I understand that you have introduced LB 345, which would change our state song from "Beautiful Nebraska" to a newer song called "I Love Nebraska." I appreciate your efforts to update our state song to something more contemporary, but, having heard the song and seen the music video (available on the internet), I must state my strong opinion that this particular song is NOT the right song to replace the old one. I stand in OPPOSITION to this bill.

From an artistic point of view, there are poorly written lyrics and forced rhymes. From an aesthetic point of view, there are many Nebraskans (including myself) who genuinely dislike country music as a genre, but I don't even think that this is particularly good country music.

Finally, I have a hard time imagining children learning this new song in schools. I myself learned "Beautiful Nebraska" while I was growing up in Nebraska public schools, and it was a song that is capable of being sung by choirs and even children. "I Love Nebraska," however, is a performance-oriented song, and its nature wouldn't really allow any but country music soloists to sing it. That hardly seems fitting for a state song.

So, I would request that you request to withdraw the bill or move that it be postponed indefinitely. Please do NOT continue to support this bill.

Thank you for all the hard work you are doing as my senator!

Jacob Gerber
Hastings, NE

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Not Just for the Birds

Over Christmas break, I accidentally subscribed to a month of Blockbuster's movie delivery service--basically, I didn't cancel my free trial subscription in time to keep it a free trial. I hate doing stuff like that, but I decided to make the best use of it I could. This summer, I saw movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for the first time, and I genuinely enjoyed them, much to my surprise. So, when I realized my Blockbuster subscription snafu, I decided to begin watching so many of the classic movies that I have never seen.

That's where Alfred Hitchcock comes in--I had been wanting to watch his movies since I saw a documentary about them around five years ago. So, I watched Rear Window a few nights ago, which was pretty good. I wasn't overly thrilled with it, but it was pretty good. It didn't quite produce the feeling of suspense that I was expecting, although it was a movie that kept me in suspense until the end about whether any murder had been committed. Hitchcock did a very good job refraining from tipping his hand until the very end.

Today, however, I watched The Birds, and I loved it. The plot is simple: flocks of birds begin gathering ominously in a peaceful California town. Then, all of the sudden, the birds begin viciously attack the people--men, women, and children alike. Seriously, who makes a movie about swarming, violent, and deranged birds? Yet it worked so well. The scariest part of the movie is to consider how many of those same birds we walk past every day without even noticing them.

Another impressive part of the movie is how Hitchcock never finally explains what it was that makes the birds attack. It seems that, in most movies that I have seen, an integral part of the plot is the slow unraveling of an elaborate explanation behind the conflict in the story. Then, the resolution of the movie depends on doing something equally elaborate to solve the conflict. In The Birds, though, Hitchcock leaves just about every possible question unanswered.

Nothing is resolved. Birds blitzkrieg. I loved it.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Slander, Thy Name is Doyle

Thanks to a great Christmas gift from my girlfriend's parents, I have begun reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Vol. I (I also have Vol. II for when I finish the first book). I didn't quite know what to expect, but I have been very pleased with the book so far.

Still, I do have one major complaint against what I have read. Midway through one of the stories, Doyle writes:

In the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies an arid and repulsive desert, which for many a long year served as a barrier against the advance of civilization. From the Sierra Nevada to Nebraska, and from the Yellowstone River in the north to the Colorado upon the south, is a region of desolation and silence....there are enormous plains, which in winter are white with snow, and in summer are gray with the saline alkali dust. They all preserve, however, the common characteristics of barrenness, inhospitality, and misery. (p. 55, my emphasis)
Doyle might be a good writer, but he knows nothing of Nebraska.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Originally uploaded by ahansen54.
On Sunday, I took a daytrip to Goslar, a small town on the northern edge of the Harz mountains. The Harz range, just an hour or so by train from Göttingen, is becoming my place to go when I need a quick escape. Although not the most epic mountain range on the planet, I'm developing an affinity for it. For spring, I've been considering of a five-day Wanderung on the Hexenstieg, a long-distance hiking trail across the Harz.

The highlight of the day was a tour of the Kaiserpfalz ("imperial palace" - see picture) in Goslar. It served as a palace to the kings of the German empire during the middle ages. It was rescued from dilapidation by Kaiser Wilhelm in the late nineteenth century, who saw it as a means of symbolically connecting his reign with those of the earlier kings. The murals that he commissioned decorate the entire great hall, and depict German history so as to connect Wilhelm with the kings of old. Very interesting.

I have a few other photos from the day on my Flickr page.

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Without Rival

Jesus brooks no rivals. There have been, there are, many religious leaders. In an age of postmodern sensibilities and a deep cultural commitment to philosophical pluralism, it is desperately easy to relativize Jesus in countless ways. But there is only one Person of whom it can be said that he made us, and then became one of us; that he is the Lord of glory, and a human being; that he died in ignominy and shame on the odious cross, yet is now seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high, having returned to the glory he shared with the Father before the world began.

--From D. A. Carson's meditation on Matt. 17 in For the Love of God, Vol. I

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Better Country

An excerpt from my homework:

Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

Christian: Why, there I hope to see him alive, that did hang dead on the Cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things, that to this day are in me, an annoyance to me; there they say there is no death, and there I shall dwell with such Company as I like best. For to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden, and I am weary of my inward sickness; I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the Company that shall continually cry, Holy, Holy, Holy.

--John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Let us keep the feast!

Because I now believe in baptizing infants, I have begun the process of finding a new church home in Birmingham. Yesterday morning, I visited a wonderful PCA church, where, for the most part, I was very pleased. We sang quality hymns; we affirmed the historic faith by reading the Apostles' Creed; we heard a good exegetical sermon that handled the text carefully and made me want to cling more to Christ; the people were friendly, and I met a fellow Beeson Divinity School student whom I had not previously met. Were those aspects my only consideration, I could very happily become a member of that church.

My only complaint was that the church did not serve the Lord's Supper. As I search for a new church, I am trying not to slip into a consumer mindset where I become a customer looking for the best deal; however, I do not think that I am asking too much to look for a church where they weekly participate in the body and blood of Christ.

The only explanation that I have ever heard for avoiding taking communion weekly is that those churches are trying to avoid making the Lord's Supper so commonplace that it becomes a routine ritual, devoid of any meaning, but I must respectfully disagree with that logic. My newfound desire for weekly communion stems directly from a huge increase in my appreciation for the sacrament that I recently developed. Furthermore, I would imagine that most churches who want to make communion "special" by only having it every once in a while have no problem with a weekly sermon. Does hearing the word of God week after week make the Bible a routine chore, or does it speak to our high reverence for it?

Please don't interpret this as a bashing of a particular church--I am quite sure that the church I attended yesterday (as well as the many others who do not enjoy weekly communion) is full of godly, wise people who have sought the Lord's direction in this and who are acting on their convictions. I am simply expressing my disagreement and disappointment with that decision, for I believe that it misses out on the great joy that comes through regularly celebrating the mystery of our faith:

Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
     Alleluia! Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us!
Therefore let us keep the feast!

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Alabama Bound

Today, I fly back to Alabama for the January term and the Spring semester of seminary. It will be hard to leave Nebraska again because being home has reinforced just how much I love this state. It is amazing how much God can tie our hearts to a particular place, even as he calls us to be somewhere else.

See you in March, Nebraska.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007


On about four different occasions, I have experimented with switching from Microsoft Office to a free office software called OpenOffice.org (yes, its name actually looks like a web site address). On each of those occasions, I quickly became frustrated with a few minor issues, and I switched back. And why not? Microsoft Office was made available to me, as a student of the University of Nebraska, for something like $5.

Now, however, the situation is a little bit different. For Christmas, I received a new laptop computer to replace the one I had been using for four years. I was thrilled with the computer, but I quickly realized that it had no office software, and Microsoft doesn't exactly encourage installing their software on multiple computers. So, I either shell out $100+ to get a word processor (the only thing I really use), or I take another stab at OpenOffice.org.

But, as Providence would have it, I ran across a book today when I was hanging out at the Hastings library: OpenOffice.org for Dummies. I'm going to try to read through the important stuff before I have to go back to Birmingham (I leave Saturday). Maybe my fifth time (with the help of a book with a demeaning title) will be the charm! We'll see how it goes...

In other news, I had tried to register for the class "Puritan Spirituality" for the January term, but I was only able to get on the waiting list. Yesterday, I got a phone call telling me that a bunch of people had defaulted on their seats in the class by not paying their bills, so I got in! I will be spending the next two weeks with Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Try not to become envious of me.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Spirituality, Soda and Salzstangen

Last night I was afflicted with the worst case of stomach sickness I can remember. I was losing the contents (or lack thereof) of my stomach nearly every hour from two to eight AM. I'm not sure if it was food poisoning (I probably won't be eating Subway any time soon) or a stomach flu, but it was pretty miserable. Thankfully my lovely bride-to-be stayed with me (online) through the duration of it. I guess there are a few advantages to the seven-hour time difference.

Around 7:30 Marc, one of my German roomates, woke up to take his shower. I asked him what time the grocery store opened, and told him I was in need of Pepsi and Salzstangen (pretzel sticks). When Bethany was sick in October, this formula was the only thing we found to cure her upset stomach. My asking him was a subtle hint that maybe he could make the two minute walk and go get some for me. Instead, he gave me a lecture about how what I really needed was prayer instead of Pepsi and pretzels, and that I was putting my faith in this formula instead of God. I politely disagreed, telling him that I think God often works through material things like pretzels and Pepsi.

8:30 found me standing outside the grocery store waiting for it to open. As soon as drank my Pepsi and ate the pretzels, I started feeling better. [Another of my roomates, who recently completed med school, told me that the salt and the sugar actually form a compound that soothes the stomach, so it's not just a wives' tale.] As I reflected on my exchange with Marc, I realized that he was buying into a dualism between the spiritual and the material, which set these things in opposition to one another. Instead of seeing God as the creator and sustainer of the natural order who uses his material creation to accomplish his will, Marc views God as working primarily through supernatural means. Thus, to him, seeking pretzels and soda is evidence of a lack of faith on my part. I acknowledge that God has worked and does work through other means that his created natural order, but it seems to me that Marc's view of divine/natural relations misses the point of goodness of creation and the total redemption of the natural order.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

The Revelation of Don McLean

A sign that I'm probably ready for seminary classes to start up again: when I was listening to Don McLean's American Pie the other day, the only thing I could think about was how much the song seemed like a textbook example of apocalyptic literature. I suppose he's a preterist, then?

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Outward Sign, Inward Reality--Part Deux

The more I reflected about my earlier post, my mind went to this verse, spoken by John the Baptist:
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matt. 3:11, my emphasis)
Notice that John the Baptist draws a distinction between how he baptizes with water and how Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. From this, I think it seems reasonable to speak of a difference between the physical baptism of water and the spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit, just as the Bible makes a distinction between physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision.

But, when the Scriptures speak of spiritual (i.e., "heart") circumcision, no one assumes that those writers are speaking of all physical circumcision, as though physical circumcision automatically equates with heart circumcision. In fact, Paul goes out of his way to emphasize the difference between physical and spiritual circumcision: "For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). Of course, the physical and the spiritual circumcisions are linked, but my point is simply that they are not exactly the same thing.

Here is what I am trying to say: when we read texts where baptism is spoken of spiritually, we should not therefore automatically equate that spiritual baptism with water baptism. As with the two types of circumcision, I think there is a connection between water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism, but I am simply arguing that not all who have received water baptism have necessarily received Holy Spirit baptism, just as not all who received physical circumcision were heart circumcised. Consider the following texts:

  • 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3-4)
  • For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13, my emphasis)
  • For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27)
  • 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:11-12)
  • Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ... (1 Pet. 3:21)
I would argue that each of these texts should be interpreted as referring to spiritual, Holy Spirit baptism rather than physical, water baptism. In this way, the verses are always true--every single person who has been spiritually baptized in the Holy Spirit has:

  • been baptized into Christ's death (Rom. 6:3-4)
  • been baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)
  • put on Christ (Gal. 3:27)
  • been buried with Christ (Col. 2:11-12)
  • been saved (1 Pet. 3:21)
I make this point (i.e., that these verses are true for everyone who has been spiritually baptized) because it is a common baptist argument to point to these verses and say, "How can these verses be true of all who are [water] baptized if we [water] baptize people who are unable to give a profession of faith?" I think the problem with this question is now clear--Scripture understands a difference between those who have been baptized with water and those who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and these texts are referring to those who have received the latter. In fact, this interpretation is even more consistent than the baptist's interpretation, since there are obviously people who make false professions of faith, but who are nevertheless baptized. (This will always happen no matter what we might try to do to separate the sheep from the goats, since we simply have no way of knowing whom exactly God chooses to save.)

In my mind, understanding baptism this way has three implications:

  1. This interpretation prevents baptists from claiming as proof that baptism should be restricted to those who can profess faith, since such a claim would confuse the spiritual baptism meant in the passages with their conception of what physical baptism should be.
  2. This interpretation gives a good reason to avoid what I would call the "hyper-sacramentalist" understanding of baptism in parts of the early church, where baptism was seen as so important--being the actual mechanism for washing away sins--that some considered it necessary for salvation. Their belief stems directly from an interpretation of the above passages which understands the spiritual benefits as coming through physical baptism.
  3. Finally, I think that this interpretation further demonstrates that we should understand baptism largely through an understanding of what circumcision was meant to be. In the Old Testament, we see that physical circumcision points to the goal of heart circumcision; in the New Testament (beginning with the distinction John the Baptist draws), we see that physical/water baptism points to the goal of Holy Spirit baptism. This high level of continuity from circumcision to baptism strongly suggests the validity of infant baptism.
So, how is water baptism related to spiritual baptism? Or, for that matter, how is physical circumcision related to heart circumcision? I'll try to pick up that topic soon.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Awesomely, Awesomely Bad

"Waiting for Guffman" meets Jacob Arminius:

The Free Will Song

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Outward Sign, Inward Reality

During my conversion to paedobaptism, I grew fairly cynical about the definition that I had always heard of baptism while I was growing up: "Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality." Of course, this definition was meant, in part, to discount the possibility of infant baptism, since it requires conversion (the inward reality) before receiving baptism (the outward sign). So, the more I came to believe in infant baptism, the more I thought I needed to jettison completely the definition of baptism that I had known all my life.

As I have reflected, though, I now see that definition as further confirmation of the validity of infant baptism. Consider how circumcision is spoken of in Scripture:

12"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deut 10:12-16)

4Circumcise yourselves to the LORD;
    remove the foreskin of your hearts,
    O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
    and burn with none to quench it,
    because of the evil of your deeds." (Jer 4:4)
The Old Testament speaks of circumcision as more than simply an ethnic, physical ritual--it was a physical act that was intended to speak to a spiritual reality (i.e., physical circumcision pointed to heart circumcision), yet it had always been applied to infants! Therefore, the New Testament passages about baptism--where the physical act of baptism is generally linked to spiritual regeneration--are not proof of a prerequisite of spiritual regeneration in order to be baptized. If the first (Jewish) readers had been accustomed to thinking of their physical act of circumcision as having spiritual overtones, why would they suddenly consider the spiritual meaning of baptism to demand the exclusion of their infants?

All this said, I do not quite consider the definition of "outward sign, inward reality" to suffice for baptism. This post has been more of an apology to baptists for paedobaptism than an attempt to force my new wine into my old wineskins. Any definition of baptism must fully explore its meaning as a sacrament and its being a "sign and a seal" of our new covenant in Christ Jesus, so that the baptist definition is incomplete, but not completely wrong. What I believe to be the fuller definition of baptism, however, is another post for another day.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cotton Bowl Post-Game Thoughts

Although it might be hard to believe, I was actually semi-pleased with our game. Certainly, it was frustrating to lose. Again. Make no mistake--I was disappointed with our loss. Still, I think that we proved that we can play with anyone--remember that Auburn was the only team to beat national-championship contender Florida this year, and the only team to beat two BCS bowl teams (LSU was the other). Also, I think that we were the better team on the field--the only two touchdowns they were able to get were from 14 and 9 yard drives, while we went 80 and then 73 yards for our touchdowns. Other than the gifts we gave Auburn, we shut them down offensively. Nevertheless, the points are the only thing that matter, and Auburn won fair and square. It kind of feels like we won the popular vote in a presidential election but lost the electoral college vote.

On the positive side, I think that this game may leave our players with a hunger for next season similar to what happened when Nebraska lost the '93 National Championship. The next year, our motto was, "Unfinished Business," and that team went on to win Nebraska's first national Championship in twenty years. "Unfinished Business" might be a great motto for the 2007 Huskers as well!

A few things:

  • Zac Taylor started off with a great game, but then kind of withered as the game went on. Unfortunately, this seems to have been a pattern this season. I am a huge Taylor fan for what he did for us, so I'm really sorry that he couldn't have a stellar day to end his career. I hope that he goes on to great things.
  • We definitely did better at stopping Auburn's run than Auburn did at stopping ours. We held them to 67 yards, and we were able to squeak out 104 yards. It was a defensive day, but I think that our defense proved to be the better one on the field, holding a top-ten team to 111 yards total offense.
  • I was right about the trick plays, but that ended up being a killer for us. I'm not as mad as some about the call--we have been very efficient at our trick plays all season, and, if it had worked, we would all be lauding Callahan's genius. I'm not exactly sure, but I think that Shanle had a lot of room to run if he could have held onto the pitch.
Next year, we should be much improved. I'm looking forward to seeing how well we can do. Our players are already predicting a BCS bowl game with a shot at the national championship. With our great recruiting class (currently ranked #8 in the nation), a frustrated hunger through off-season training, and one more year to implement everything that Callahan is trying to do, I think that our players might be right.

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