Monthly Archives: April 2014

Easter Sunday

Adam bore the image of God and was man’s federal representative. Adam rebelled against God, however, the rebellion-sin did not destroy but only defaced the imago Dei. So now man’s nature has been corrupted by the imputation of the ethical disease of sin (Romans 5:12).

God, however, promised that from the seed of the woman a new federal representative and image bearer of God would be sent to restore the defaced imago Dei of the progeny of the First Adam. This “seed” who brings the grace-gift of Salvation-Eternal Life is the Second Adam the God-Man Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). God has demonstrated in the Second Adam his love in full (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Easter Sunday is a celebration of God’s love in full–we celebrate because we know that if having been united to Jesus by the gift of saving faith through the work of the Holy Ghost, and that having gone down with Jesus in his death, so too we shall rise with Jesus in that decisive victory of Resurrection, when the Father proclaimed that Jesus Christ the Son of God was the Salvation-King of fellow-man (Psalm 2; Psalm 110). At the Table of Fellowship Christians gather to partake of Christ’s body and blood which are a Testament of a greater covenant, the Covenant of Grace declared in Genesis 3:15; it is the New Covenant by which God is restoring the World to goodness through His Resurrection.

Good Friday

Christians never look to the Cross with fear but rather with hopeful remembrance: Christians believe that the hungry lion-of-death that consumed our Lord is no longer worthy of being feared because God through Jesus Christ has transformed death into a salvation-making carcass so that now out of the eater came forth meat / out of the strong came forth sweetness (Judges 14:14), i.e., out of the cruel-strength that is death comes sweetness. Salvation that came out of the Death of Christ is as sweet to you as is honey. Death is victory-less. Death is sting-less. Christians believe in the death of death in the death of Christ. Christian living is paradoxical, believing death is the consummation of Eternal Life.

On Prose-Poetry

Discussing Herman Melville’s literary genius exemplified in the writing of Moby Dick, Robert Alter reflects on how Melville broke through the literary stylistic boundaries of that time while under the influence of the powerful prose of the King James Version of the Bible.

This ambition to turn the language of the novel into prose-poetry is a distinctly American project; there is nothing quite like it in British fiction till the advent of modernism. In saying this, and, indeed, in my general account of the presence of the King James Version in American prose, I do not mean to make any larger claim about the much debated issue of American exceptionalism. There are certainly some characteristics traits of American culture that look distinctive, but they do not necessarily encompass the culture as a whole and they are not necessarily unique. It suffices for my argument that the phenomena I describe are particularly at home in the American settings and  are not readily imaginable elsewhere. In regard to the bold polyphony of Melville’s prose that is inseparable from its purposefully poetic character, it should be stressed that there is considerable correspondence between the actual allusions to earlier writers and components of style drawn from them. The single figure of Ahab is compound of literary allusions. He resembles King Ahab not only as evil monarch but in his heroic defiance: King Ahab at the end, bleeding to death, asks to be propped up in his chariot so that he can continue to do battle, just as Melville’s Ahab at the end, blinded, his boat splintered, persists in the fierce struggle against his terrible foe (“from hell’s heart I stab at thee”). Ahab is also Job, bitterly arguing against what he sees as the skewed moral order of creation, and he is even the blighted generation in the wilderness (“forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea!”). At the same time, Ahab is also Milton’s Satan and both Macbeth and Lear. What needs to be kept in mind is that Melville summons up for his own novelistic purposes not only the lineaments of these sundry figures but elements of the poetic language in which they are etched in the texts where they originally appear” (Robert Alter, Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible, 65-66).

The Church is the New Israel because Jesus is the New Israel

The gospel writers picture Jesus as retracing the steps of Israel. Reminiscent of Israel, Jesus spent time in Egypt, entered the Jordan (baptism), was tempted in the wilderness, called twelve apostles (like twelve tribes), spoke God’s word like Moses (Sermon on the Mount), preached five sermons (compare the Pentateuch) in Matthew, performed mighty deeds of deliverance (sings, wonders, and exorcisms), and confronted imperial powers. Where Israel had failed, Jesus had been a faithful Son. His followers were to take up the task of being God’s servant people. He worked with a faithful band of disciples, he taught them about life in what he called “the kingdom of God,” and he introduced them to the new covenant that bound them together in forgiveness and love” (Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Israel, 4).

WCF. V. Of Providence – 2-7. Q & A.

Blogging through and answering the questions from G. I. Williamson’s The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes for personal review and comprehension.

WCF. V. Of Providence. Sections 2-7.

1. Name the common objections to the doctrine of absolute sovereignty. 

It is argued that if God is absolutely and exhaustively sovereign, then that means that man is not responsible for his sins.

2. Refute same.

Scripture emphatically teaches that man sins precisely because man wills to do so. Man has genuine free will, however, it is not philosophic “libertarian” free will (because there is no such thing). Man’s free will is the free will of a “creature”, we have freedom within the confines of a created-thing’s opportunity and ability. Precisely because of the Creator-creature distinction, the Triune God, who is infinite, eternal, and immutable, allows man to do as he wills, i.e., desires/intends/chooses, as a means for rendering all that God in his providence has predetermined, i.e., “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently” (WCF. V. 2.).

3. Why do the elect sometimes sin so grievously?

For a variety of reasons: as chastisement for former sins; to reveal to the elect the fierceness of sin’s power; as illumination contributing to their ongoing sanctification, through revealing and enlightening the elect of deceit hidden in the dark corners of one’s own heart; chiefly–to cultivate humility in them, that they might draw nearer to Jesus as the author and finisher of their faith, the Captain of their salvation. Also, falling into grievous sin teaches the elect to be on their guard, to be more watchful, to ensure that they not give Satan so much as a single wooden peg to perch upon within their hearts (seeing that the enemy oftentimes schemes to migrate sinners from lesser to greater sins). Certainly there is a plethora of “sundry other just and holy ends” (WCF. V. 5), but it would be impossible to denote them. We must be content with God’s Word alone: Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

4. Why do the reprobate sometimes act better than we might expect them to?

“Because God sometimes enables the conscience of the unbeliever to overrule him” (358). The imago Dei was only defaced by the Fall, therefore, even in unbelievers there are “remnants of their old nature” (tracing back to the sinless nature of Adam). “The conscience still retains some recollection of the law of God which was written there in the beginning (Rom. 2:14-15)” (67).

5. Is it correct to speak of a Christian as both an old and new man?

Absolutely not. A Christian was the “old man” but is now the “new man.” There are, however, sinful effects of the nature of the old man that a Christian must be guarded against until his death and consummation of Eternal Life. This is why mortification and quickening of the Spirit is so important for Christian Living.

6. Is a Christian “responsible” for the sin he does under the influence of “the remnants of the old nature”?

Yes. Absolutely. The new man sins, but the source of the sin is not from the new man, but, as said above, the effects of the nature of the old man. “The regenerate man sins, but he cannot give himself to the willful and continual practice of sin: ‘For His [God’s] seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God’ (1 John 3:9)” (66).

8. Explain and harmonize Paul’s statements in Romans 7:20 and 7:24.

Romans 7:20, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” Paul traces source of sin to the remnant-effect of former sinful nature.

Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul clearly believes he himself is responsible for his own sinful actions.

9. Why is the final section of this chapter of the Confession important? 

The final section is Section 7: “As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.” Here we learn that God’s providence in a special way is concerned with God’s redemptive aims (cf. Rom. 8:28; Eph. 3:11).

Reading Notes: The Spreading Flame by F.F. Bruce

Bruce, F.F. The Spreading Flame: The Rise and Progress of Christianity from its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English. 1958. Reprint. Paternoster Press, 1981.
I have read a handful of books by F.F. Bruce (New Testament History, Acts commentaries), this book was equally good. Also, generally speaking, I appreciate Bruce’s straightforward style of writing.
This book traces the growth of the Church from its inception until the 8th century. During this historical survey Bruce time and time again clearly depicts the context for each of the episodes he visits, e.g., the correlation between the Roman peace of Augustus’ reign and Paul’s words in Galatians 4:4, “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son” illustrates how the world was both politically and religiously primed for the advent of the gospel (p. 24); the interlocutory Church Orthodox through its Ecumenical Councils vis-à-vis internal heretical pressures (Chapters 25-26, 31-33; particularly Chapter 33, titled Defining the Faith, which discusses the dialogue on the nature and persons of the Trinity between the Orthodox and heretical groups, i.e., Marcionism, the Monarchian schools, Docetism, Sabellianism, etc.).
Bruce’s subject matter is separated into three parts, which, I believe, in Bruce’s estimation could be called “The Good, The Bad, and The Slightly Better”: Part I covers the Good of the “The Dawn of Christianity” until the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 1-70); Part II covers the Bad of the “The Growing Day” that rose out of Jerusalem’s destruction at the advent and reign of Constantine (AD 70-313); and Part III covers the Slightly Better rising of the “Light in the West” with the English conversion (AD 313-800). In each of these three volumes, Bruce is at his strongest when giving simple descriptions that create a context for understanding the spreading flame of Church History.
In this historical retrospect, descriptions of Christian evangelism and Church growth were particularly compelling, i.e., without being sinfully detached or unemotional Bruce aptly avoids sensationalism in his retelling of Christianity’s growth and the positive, liberating, and meaningful change it brought to pagan cultures, e.g., Christian mercy-ministries (pp. 189-190) and Christianization that was cataclysmic for the revision of existent law-code (p. 401). While reading this book I was reminded of David Bentley Hart’s thesis in Atheist Delusions, a book “chiefly about the early church” and the revolutionary reality of the “triumph of Christianity.” Similarly, Bruce’s historical rendering of Church History as the metaphorical “Spreading Flame” plots out in an episodic fashion that same Christian triumph, albeit without the more provocative stylism of contemporary scholars, e.g., Hart, Peter Leithart’s Deep Comedy, and Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Compared to said contemporary authors Bruce feels dry and dusty.
As an aside: I would never go to Bruce to resolve a theology question, however, if I am simply trying to understand what the Biblical text says or what actually did occur historically, then he is on the top of my list. Bruce is great for explanation, but Bruce is lousy for implication/application. Also, I know folks have actively debated whether it is best and/or accurate to consider Bruce a “liberal conservative” or a “conservative liberal”, but I have to admit that I think that entire debate is tragically flawed. Unfortunately, when the debate is framed like that, it turns the debate into an argument between “kinds” rather than “types”. To me that is criminal; Bruce is (in my humble opinion) intrinsically conservative when it comes to the discipline of Biblical Criticism. Why do I say that? Because Bruce first and foremost considered the New Testament documents to be historical, and the historicity of the New Testament and its message is exactly the rub between Biblical conservatives and liberals. The “Postscript” to this book is rather self-revealing of Bruce: he states, “For Part I the main source-book is the New Testament. An evaluation of the historical quality of its contents may be found in my inquiry Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? (first published in 1943).” Bruce continues with the expected scholarly posturing, briefly mentioning the value of Josephus’ writings and Roman historian Tacitus, but I would love to read contemporary scholars who could echo Bruce on that first point.
Moving on, a repeated theme in the book is Bruce’s contention that “Christianity was organized for catastrophe” (p. 288). Bruce notes:
The story of the Christian Church of the first three centuries is largely a commentary on this [Christ’s promise of triumph to those who persevere]. In the fiercest of tribulations Christianity proved its capacity for survival, and not for mere survival but for actual victory. And the victory was won by spiritual weapons alone. . . . We review the history of Christianity up to the year 313 with no sense of shame, but with a sense that here is something to evoke gratitude and inspire courage. The qualities that triumphed then are the qualities which still transmute disaster into victory (p. 289).
By this bold and epigrammatic statement Bruce points to the fact that Christianity in its beginnings is characterized by the fact that Jesus himself did not mince words regarding the looming opposition the disciples would be faced with. The disciples, however, had been given the promise of triumph, thus, after the complete reversal-and-inversion of the thought-to-be-disaster that was the Cross, all subsequent disasters and even death itself had been debilitated and turned upside down and inside out.
This is a helpful hermeneutic for any Christian Historian who is faced with trying to trace the Spiritual growth of the Invisible Church while at the same time giving proper merit to the growth of the Visible Church. Bruce quotes Dean Inge favorable: “The real history of Christianity is the history of a great spiritual tradition. The only true apostolical succession is the lives of the saints” (161). Thus, during his presentation of Church History post- AD 313, Bruce laments much of history of the Visible Church, nearly chalking some episodes up as none other than secular history. Interestingly, I think Bruce’s personality comes through the clearest at these subtle points where his opinion pokes through his straightforward style, e.g., “Where church leaders were able to exercise political as well as spiritual authority, they did not enjoy any marked immunity from the universally corrupting tendency of power—a tendency which presents an even more displeasing spectacle in Christians than it does in other people, because it clashes so with the first principles of Christianity” (293).
Yet, Bruce is no simpleton. He properly understood that it was impossible (and just plain wrong) to attempt to talk about the Invisible Church without referent to the Visible Church. He says, “But the difficulty of the would-be historian is this: it is relatively easy to trace the fortunes of a visible institution, whereas the course of a great spiritual tradition is much more elusive. And yet, the two are so closely interwoven that it is impossible to treat of the one without constant reference to the other” (p. 161). This made me thing of how there are always two types of network topologies: there are physical topologies (physical/literal telecommunication cable runs, connecting circuits from Point A to Point B) and there are virtual topologies (diagrams the logical/virtual flow of data across/through the interconnections of a physical topology).
After gritting his teeth in Part II, while reflecting on the post-Constantine imperial decline and its co-occurrence with barbarian invasions, Bruce highlights how a Church “organized for catastrophe” once again thrived. The Church took the “handicaps of that kind . . . in its stride, showing once again that it was organized for catastrophe and never revealed its true qualities better than in times of general disaster” (p. 417).

I find Bruce to be helpful. Church History is a messy affair, but this book was a good reminder that Christians should be cautious not to collapse the token of the Visible Church into the Invisible Church or vice-versa, e.g., Bruce says, “but the genuine spirit of Christ is sometimes to be found in unlikely quarters. That, after all, is what we might expect when we consider that Christ Himself was regarded as scarcely orthodox either in belief or in practice by the leaders of His own religious community” (p. 417). A good reminder, indeed.

LOL: Restraint

“Once you have a cache of consumables, you’ll have to show some restraint to avoid increasing your rate of consumption. My first adventure into stockpiling came when I bought what I thought would be a two- to three-year supply of wine. The convenience of having it on hand each time we had a nice meal turned it into a one-year supply. It’s easy to use something that is handy, especially when you have a great quantity of it. Like the child who eats the whole shopping bag full of Halloween candy, you may get sick when you realize your cost of living has risen due to the convenience of your stockpile” (John A. Pugsley, The Alpha Strategy, 62).

Behooved by David Bentley Hart with Qualifiers to Protect My Unborn Child

You really must go read this article by David Bentley Hart. If Colbert in the earlier post didn’t make you laugh, then this will.

On the one hand, DBH interacts with a critique of his recent book, in which he exposes the “depressingly vapid” cognition of the “indolent secularism of late modern society,” while on the other hand, DBH, to put it lightly, will make you laugh. In fact, I told my wife, who is currently pregnant, to read the article, forewarning her that she would fall on the ground with laughter. To which I quickly added, “Just don’t hurt the baby!”

History of Liturgy

Helpful essay on historiography/liturgical history. From the essay’s conclusion:

The point of this tour through liturgical historiography is to demonstrate that what many people typically mean when they speak of the liturgy of “the early church” is actually a historically-contingent sample from a span of about four or five hundred years, beginning with, rather than climaxing in, the fourth century. This sort of observation does not tell us whether a certain liturgical form is good or bad, nor even better or worse, but what it does do is place the entire discussion firmly in the realm of human law, tentative investigation, and, thus eventually, prudential application.

As the saying goes: In Essentials Unity – In Non-Essentials Liberty – In All Things Charity.