Monthly Archives: July 2012

Assignment: Covenant Summary

When my wife and I were in marriage counseling she made a comment in reference to one of the books our counselor assigned to us to read, and the gist of her comment was, “He [the book’s author] keeps using the word covenant but he never defines it. I’m so confused.” My wife was absolutely correct. And the deficit she noticed in that author is widespread; I’ve read mounds of books about the covenant but do so with the vaguest verbiage imaginable.

Yesterday I met with a friend from church and he asked me to define the covenant. I gave a somewhat long-winded answer: I started with the Creator-creation distinction and then moved on to describe the Covenant of Works with Adam and the Covenant of Grace with Jesus Christ. I was consciously trying to summarize the Westminster Confession of Faith’s teaching on the covenant. We probably discussed that for 5-10 minutes, and at the conclusion my friend said, “So, how would you summarize that in two sentences?” That was my assignment for the day. So, I took a stab at it and this is what I’ve formulated, leaning heavily upon what I’ve picked up from WCF and in John Frame’s writings.

First, God is the Creator, He is the Divine Head, the Lord of all of creation, and as Lord he self-discloses himself to man “by way [mode] of covenant” (Westminster Confession of Faith). 

Second, The two essential elements of a covenant are 1) conditions and 2) promises; God’s relation as Creator to created man is by the way of conditions and promises, which means, on the one hand, that for obedience man is promised life and salvation, but, on the other hand, for disobedience man is promised death and damnation.

What do you think? Clear as mud? Is that a helpful summary, or am I missing something?

Serfs of the Web – Blog Update

An official blog update. As you can see (literally speaking), the plate tectonics at CCS | Tree & The Seed Blogger have been rattling around like loose change in a junk drawer. Some red hot magma from my to-do-list finally made it to the surface of this blog, e.g. blog title change, new background, added Links, layout tweaking, and now that I’ve checked this off my list it is my hope that something obsidian-like. Please be shiny and pleasant to the eye balls.

In any case, on to much more important matters. The background is a drawing by my wife–the beautiful and talented Julie L. Martinez–titled “tree and the seed”. The image is tiled for the background, so for your benefit I am posting image here. Ain’t it a beauty. 

Spoils of War and Life Outside of the Academy

There is a saying, “In war, the spoils go to the victor,” and generally that is the case. However, sometimes spoils go to Lepers who by good fortune wander in to a deserted Syrian camp (2 Kings 7:3-8); and those guys sure made out well–eating, drinking, carrying off silver and gold! I feel a bit like that today. Yesterday I obtained a free copy of Black & Tan, generously provided for free (for a short time) in response to recent controversies. And sure, I know “it isn’t a perfect analogy” . . . I am not a Leper, no silver, no gold, but surely you get the gist.

[I]f there is a young Christian to-day in a typical evangelical church who is thinking about joining the Marines and going to Iraq, he does not have to get a Ph.D. in American foreign policy studies first. He can make an honorable decision without that. Now this has ramifications for the study of history, but I am in no way commending it as a basic method of studying history. An infantryman doesn’t need to be a historian to help make history. But historians should be competent historians as they study it, and in their study, meticulous attention to the facts matters. At the same time, “competence” cannot be defined from some neutral place. There is no detached realm of “neutral facts” where believer and unbeliever alike can go and find the pristine data. This is not a historical claim; it is a theological claim about history. We are called to live our lives in a way that realizes there is a world outside the academy. Most of the people in the economy are not economists. Most people who have made history are not historians (Douglas Wilson, Black & Tan, 6).

Jay E. Adams: Handbook of Church Discipline – A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member

At church we’ve started a new men’s book study over Jay E. Adams’ Handbook of Church Discipline. The book was on my assigned reading list during my second year of ministerial training, so I have read it once and benefited greatly. Adams’ has three objectives for the book: 1) “to present a clear, concise biblical description of church discipline,” 2) “to provide a ready reference to which you may turn for help in situations requiring church discipline,” and 3) “to convince the dubious that church discipline is not only a biblical requirement (and therefore feasible) but also a right and a privilege of every member of the church of Christ, and therefore, a blessing that should not be withheld” (8).

I believe Adams wonderfully accomplishes his three-fold aim in this important book. Despite the books shelf life (originally published in the 1970s), I had not heard of it until I saw it listed on my syllabus for ministerial training. I find myself, however, wishing that I had been exposed to the book earlier in life. 

I was raised in a United Methodist Church in rural Indiana. Without reservation I believe that it was a wonderful local church, despite the hiccups. On the one hand, as a child I learned both at home and church how to trust in and obey Jesus Christ, but, on the other hand, at times things arose that were very troublesome. For example, when I was in eighth grade I attended my first “abstinence” men’s retreat, which was a retreat put on every other year by our church, which provided a platform for leaders in the church to provide instruction to young men on God’s design for sexual purity and marriage. The retreat had plenary sessions that all of the young men attended together, but they also had breakout groups divided up by age/maturity, that way they could accommodate and be sensitive to the differences between the maturity, experiences, and the differences in the type of questions asked by, for example, a sixth grader instead of a senior in high school. The retreats typically ran Friday through Saturday evening, and at the end of the retreat they had, for lack of a better phrase, an “altar call” for Sexual Abstinence, where each of the boys/young men were given the opportunity to sign an “abstinence card” which stated that they would wait until they were married to have sex. One of the Lay Elders (that is Methodist-speak for someone who is not a pastor but is formally part of the church rule and leadership) was our breakout group leader; each of the breakout group leaders were called “counselors” and they were the ones who oversaw and facilitated the card signing.

Fast-Forward two or three years: the Lay Elder who led/taught the breakout session I attended, the very same man who signed my “abstinence card” as a witness, the very same man who had been my “counselor” for the two day retreat . . . that man abandoned his wife and their children, and he abandoned them so he could shack up with a woman he met on the Internet. I was deeply troubled by this for several reasons, but what troubled me the most, even at such a tender age, was that formal church discipline was never adjudicated. And when I say none, I mean Zip, Zero, Nothing-at-All.

I even went to my parents and asked them why our pastors hadn’t handled the situation in accordance with the instructions provided in Matthew 18. I had attended a two week leadership and worldview camp hosted by David Noebel at Summit Ministries in Colorado, and it was while there that one of our instructors taught how the church had been invested with the power by Jesus Christ to bind and to loose, that is, to execute church discipline. I had never heard about church discipline at church; it was not taught and was not practiced. So, I asked my parents something to the effect of, “After confronting Mr. _____ about his sin, which he then refused to confess, why didn’t the Elders/Pastors bring this situation before the members of the church?” My parents tried to answer to the best of their abilities, but in the aftermath I just kept wondering to myself if the outcome would have been different if the Pastors/Elders of the church had brought the situation before the entire church, as they are clearly instructed to do so in Matthew 18.

Typically I am not much of a proponent for “what if” questions, but I believe in this case, in light of the circumstances, it is valid. To paraphrase Jay Adams, church discipline is a “right and a privilege” of members of a church—it is a blessing! But in the situation I have been describing, that right and privilege, that blessing, it was withheld by the pastors from the Lay Elder that had fallen in to sin when they failed to exercise church discipline. 

In the case of this Lay Elder, even though he was removed from church leadership it left a huge question mark over his head in the minds of a lot of people from the church. Since formal church discipline never occurred, many people at the church were absolutely clueless about his sin. Eventually the church was told Mr. _____ was no longer a Lay Elder, they knew, obviously, that he wasn’t attending church regularly, but all of this coincided with him taking a new job outside of the State so that wouldn’t have raised red flags for a person that wasn’t in the know. And so what you had in effect was this: sometimes he would attend church when he was in town and people who didn’t know any better would interact with him as if everything was fine and dandy. In this case, the Sheep were not being protected from a Wolf.

I now attend a church where the Elders do exercise church discipline, and it has been blessing to my family, as well as a means of protection. As a result of formal church discipline several Wolves have been scattered from our church. I am thankful for the right and privilege of church discipline, first, because I know that it is one of the means by which God oftentimes calls men to repent and turn away from their sins (and no Christian is so holy that he does not have to worry about falling in to sin and needing the mutual support and love of others to encourage and implore them to repentance), and, second, speaking as a husband and father, I am thankful for church discipline because it provides much comfort to know that my wife and our children are being protected from Wolves. Not only does Christ protect us by sending us the Holy Spirit, in order that we might have discernment and be made wise according to the fear of God and knowledge of the Scriptures, but he has also provided Under-Shepherds, the Elders/Pastors, who are ambassadors to us that care for and protect us through teaching, rebuke, and admonishment. Church discipline is a blessing, and that is why I wish I, as well as others, had been introduced to Adams’ “clear, concise biblical description of church discipline” at a much earlier point in my life.

This is the rub. Church discipline not only protects the Sheep from the Wolves, but it honors and glorifies God. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for Christians to attend churches that practice church discipline. Like Adams says, it is a biblical requirement, it is feasible. I would encourage anyone that is a member of a church that does not practice church discipline to talk to the church officers (pastors, elders, etc.) about the biblical requirement, and if you discover that they are not reasonable men, that they do not care to honor and glorify God, that they do not care to gather the sheep and scatter the wolves, then I would recommend that you look for a new church to attend, one which practices church discipline. If you do transition, there must be a dialogue with your current church officers and the officers of the church you intend to transfer your membership to, and in everything you must conduct yourself with gentleness, respect, and the peace of Christ. 

Laughing Out Loud: July 19, 2012

Today I went to McDonalds during my lunch break to grab a drink and read. I was in line ready to place my order, John R. Muether’s biography of Cornelius Van Til in my left hand, and the lady taking my order struck up a conversation:

Lady: What are you reading?
CCS: A biography on Cornelius Van Til.
Lady: Who is that?
CCS: He lived in Indiana for a while when he was young, he was a Reformed Apologist and taught at  Westminster Theological Seminary for several decades.
Lady: An anthropologist?
CCS: No. I said he was a Reformed Apologist.
Lady: What?
CCS: A Christian Apologist.
Lady: Like a philosopher?
CCS: Uhm, sort of.
Lady: Ah, okay. So, like Schopenhauer?

Book Review: John Calvin’s American Legacy – Conclusion: John Calvin at “Home” in American Culture

Chapter 11 review here. Chapter 10 review here. Chapter 9 review here. Chapter 8 review here. Chapter 7 review here. Chapter 6 review here. Chapter 5 review here. Chapter 4 review here. Chapter 3 review here. Chapter 2 review here. Chapter 1 review here. Introduction review here. Initial thoughts here.

Thomas J. Davis, who edited this book, pens the final ado; it is an apt conclusion and he does it in just under four pages to boot! Kudos to Davis for writing a real conclusion; kudos for not giving in to the temptation of penning a verbose editorial tome.

In the Introduction, Davis stated that “the point of this book is that, despite all of the changes and challenges; despite Calvinism’s ultimate failure to hold the American consciousness . . . the fact remains that Calvinism in America has had an impact on American society and culture in every century, even if at times it has gone unrecognized. And behind Calvinism stands Calvin” (11). This book has certainly pointed that very thing out; each of the authors has provided an excellent article highlighting Calvin’s significance and the permanence of Calvin’s legacy in America, a legacy that has made its mark upon American culture, theology, and literature.

Davis’ “short conclusion” utilizes the work of Marilynne Robinson–whose “attempt to restore Calvin to a place in the American consciousness free from stereotypes” (13) is a perfect capstone to the proceeding eleven chapters. Davis examines several works by Robinson and quickly tells how she has put forth the effort to have Calvin “reinsert[ed] . . . into the cultural conversation,” displaying her “concern for the dignity and well-being of the human creature in Calvin’s thought–and the thoughts of his heirs–that could well serve as a bulwark against the dehumanizing and depersonalizing forces of the modern world” (268). In Robinson’s work, which oftentimes meditates on the relations between fathers, families, and friends, the “house” and “home” are landscape-ish, they function as the perfect context and backdrop within which to best display Calvin and Calvinism. Davis echoes Robinson’s artistic imagination, concurring that: 

Calvinism wrapped up in family rather than abstraction appears more genuinely human and, thus, acceptable. Perhaps through the work of Robinson, it will be easier to think of John Calvin and Calvinism as being at home in the American consciousness–as one of many influences that should have a recognized seat at the family table of American traditions (270). 

Book Review: John Calvin’s American Legacy – Chapter 11 – Cold Comforts: John Updike, Protestant Thought, and the Semantics of Paradox

Chapter 10 review here. Chapter 9 review here. Chapter 8 review here. Chapter 7 review here. Chapter 6 review here. Chapter 5 review here. Chapter 4 review here. Chapter 3 review here. Chapter 2 review here. Chapter 1 review here. Introduction review here. Initial thoughts here.

Kyle A. Pasewark opens his article on Protestant/Calvinistic thought and author John Updike with a zinger of an observation: “Americans are not a people whose palates are sensitive to the taste of paradox.” Pasewark, unflinchingly, elaborates:

The strong and unambiguous flavors of progressivism, optimism, pessimism—all, in their way, opposites of paradox—are more our style, and we prefer them laid on a plate, or at the buffet stand, clearly distinguished [emphasis CCS] from one another so that we can have one flavor at a time rather than components stacked upon each other or flavors melded to confront us with first salty, then sweet, then both together (257).

If that doesn’t make you twinge, then consider the weight of Pasewark’s additional observation that Americans, precisely because of their Protestant heritage, ought to have a more developed palate:

This American preference is a little bit unexpected, since the United States is often portrayed—and portrays itself—as a “Christian nation,” and one would think that the key Christian and, even more, the central Protestant category of “paradox” would fare a little better in American culture, that “paradox” would be a word that one hears more frequently (257).

I must interject with affirmation: I rarely hear the word “paradox” when I am out-and-about. For example, I never hear the word “paradox” when I am at the grocery store in the north-most part of the Bible Belt, that is, in Warsaw/Winona Lake, Indiana, both cities with rich and deep heritage in American Revivalism—only miles form my residence is a Monument/Sanctuary dedicated to celebrating Billy Sunday’s life and work; and I never hear the word paradox when I am at work where I am employed by a Fortune 500 Company and where I interact with co-workers in markets spread out across 27 of the States . . . okay, that is not accurate, I have heard one individual use the term “paradox” but that was only once in the past two and half years—in that instance “paradox” was a word in cliché phrase he used to describe an intermittent network issue we were troubleshooting, so that doesn’t really count. I have only heard the word “paradox” used regularly in Wesleyan-Armenian circles during my days at university (Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN), and then after college in Reformed – G. K. Chesterton-reading-and-chronically-quoting circles, which I now call home, that is, within the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). All of that to simply say, Pasewark is correct—Americans are not a people whose palates are sensitive to the taste of paradox.
Pasewark strings together a collection of zingers like pearls on a necklace in the first 3 or 4 pages of his article. He says, “Nowhere is the American preference for the directness of the nonparadoxical more in evidence than in the American understanding of freedom.” He then goes on to dismantle the uncouthness of how most Americans think about freedom, for we, I mean Americans, “do not approach these contradictions [our use of freedom to indicate many things that we believe are all “good” but are in fact contradictory] as contradictions but as modalities of the same thing” (257). Pasewark, again, shows that Americans are not as sophisticated as we would like to think we are.
These comments prep the ground for Pasewark’s ensuing excavation, examining the “cold comforts” of John Updike, Protestant Thought, and the Semantics of Paradox. Pasewark begins with two premises: 1) “paradox is the fabric of John Updike’s fiction” (258), and 2) “the classic doctrine of election is paradoxical” (259). To understand the latter premise Pasewark reminds his audience, “one’s election [is] the condition for freedom, not its eradication” (259). Pasewark then goes into a couple examinations of characters from John Updike’s writings to illustrate what happens when people with nonparadoxical understandings of freedom worship freedom (like Americans often do), “as seekers of freedom, his major characters ask for nothing more than to be alone, but they still require others, and though they begin by demanding freedom, they become ugly dominators of others and, ultimately, self-destructive as well” (260). This perverse and bizarre nonparadoxical freedom is their highest good and becomes their religion, and as Pasewark comments, this type of freedom is “asocial and apolitical” (262). Pasewark also notes:

This lack of political consciousness is not a weakness in Updike’s work but an expression of his characters’ deepest American contemporaneousness. For them, too, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are personal, not social (263).

Pasewark follows up this thought with an additional comment, “This, too, is a reversal and cancellation of Calvinistic Protestantism from Geneva through the Puritans,” which means when you try to create a just society with men and women who live with the effects of their death nature and the sin of their federal head Adam, “the actualization of social and political life is not ecstatic but effortful” (263). This is why freedom is paradoxical—one’s election is the condition for freedom, for effort, for labor, etc., and it will be fruitful, productive. Contrast that with a nonparadoxical freedom, which, according to Pasewark, “devours not only itself but also the others whom it touches” (263).
Paswark then turns his eyes to the contemporary and provides examples of this naughty “freedom” running wild within American Republical political party (e.g. George W. Bush, activities of the CIA of late, etc.) and the resultant destructiveness. Bad “freedom is bad for people, personally, but also corporately, by that I mean bad “freedom” is bad for society. Personal and social havoc occurs when paradox is not the calibrating instrument of freedom, however, Pasewark tries to leave his audience with a hopeful thought:

. . . just how far from Calvin’s view of freedom and government “this great roughly rectangular country severed from Christ by the breadth of the sea” has come. We can hope, however, that the full glory of the ultimate destructiveness of the nonparadoxical understanding of freedom is now clear to us, and perhaps the way is clear for a conception of freedom that is both paradoxical and political (265).

ClearNote Fellowship 2012 Conference

Our family returned late yesterday evening from attending ClearNote Fellowship’s summer conference in Bloomington, Indiana. The conference title was “I Believe in God the Father Almighty” and you can follow the link for additional information on the speakers and topics from the various plenary and breakout session. I believe eventually they will post conference audio; if so, then I will add a follow-up post.

The conference was fun, Christian fellowship was rich, and our family fed well upon God’s Word. Many thanks to ClearNote Fellowship for putting this on and I highly recommend next year’s conference to anyone that might be interested and/or able to attend–2013 conference is “She [the Church] is Our Mother.”

Book Review: John Calvin’s American Legacy – Chapter 10 – “Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Baxter & Co.”: Mark Twain and the Comedy of Calvinism

Chapter 9 review here. Chapter 8 review here. Chapter 7 review here. Chapter 6 review here. Chapter 5 review here. Chapter 4 review here. Chapter 3 review here. Chapter 2 review here. Chapter 1 review here. Introduction review here. Initial thoughts here.

Joe B. Fulton serves up an article piping hot with Twainian wit and comic relief that is, refreshingly, tossed with a respectable amount of sobriety. The article’s sub-heading comes from a comment by Twain:

In modern times the halls of heavens are warmed by registers connected with hell–& it is greatly applauded by Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Baxter, & Co. because it adds a new pang to the sinner’s sufferings to know that the very fire which tortures him is the means of making the righteous comfortable (240).

Early on Fulton comments, “Twain delights in putting Calvinist definitions in the mouths of characters such as drunken miners and Satan” (241), but don’t let observations like this mislead you in to thinking that Fulton is leveraging Mark Twain’s literary legacy merely to bash him some Calvin. In fact, quite the opposite is at play.
Fulton argues that the “contribution” by Calvin(ism) to American literature has been (largely) misunderstood, e.g., “its [the contribution of Calvinism to American literature] influence is tracked inversely: American literature terminates, thrives, then flowers precisely as it sheds the dead husk of Calvinism in which it had been entombed” (242), and Fulton decries these literary histories written during the early twentieth century, the proponents of hasty inversion.
Contrarily, Fulton argues throughout his article that Mark Twain was “more alike than different” those men who contributed to the Calvinistic “husk” frowned upon by the early twentieth century literary historians, and that instead of being mere husk, “Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Baxter, & Co.,” because they “[both Calvinist theology and Mark Twain] shared a theological vocabulary, metaphysical assumptions, and a view of God as sovereign. Their disagreements were substantial, but Mark Twain and the Calvinists were partners in the same enterprise” (253), is proof that Calvinism was a contributing (perhaps even a determinable) element of that savory kernel which is Twain’s comic voice. (Fulton provides plenty of examples from Twain’s catalog, both fiction and non-fiction, in support of his argument.)
Fulton is rather astute in all of this, and mentions, “Twain’s criticism of Edwards and Calvinism is so compelling because it is a disagreement among writers who share most of the same fundamental theological conceptions” (252). This is invaluable for understanding the contributory-relationship between Calvin(ism) and American literature. It is, however, important to note that Fulton acknowledges that Twain’s Calvinism is a “twisted version of Calvinist theology” (252), but this outlook only reinforces Fulton’s argument that Twain was not merely dismissing Calvinism as an author within the American literary tradition but took it seriously.
In interacting with Calvinistic theology, Twain’s wit and comedy was a true and serated edge, however, he is a far cry from the “shock and awe” which characterizes a villain from contemporary slasher/horror film—Twain’s slashes are purposeful, calculated, like the creative activity of the Triune God of Calvinistic Theology–Twain’s slashes are not random. This means, as Fulton says, “Twain’s grappling with Calvinism is earnest” (245).
My thoughts: I enjoyed this article. I have not read anything by Twain since middle school (and what I read at that time were the three or four classics), but Fulton has inspired to me to “take up and read” Twain, again. A lazy Saturday may be on the horizon, and, if so, then I feel that I may read me some Tom Sawyer.