Sunday, October 05, 2014

You are what you love


Something to ponder from David Brooks of the The New York Times:
People don’t change because they decide to be better. If that happened, then New Year’s Resolutions would work. 
People decide to change because they elevate their loves. And as St. Augustine said, “You become what you love.” 
But if you can’t talk about the struggle of sin, if you can’t talk about why some loves are higher than other loves, and ordered versus disordered loves, you don’t have the moral vocabulary, the mental tool kit to think about how to be better. 
And the Christian tradition gives us that
...in spades.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

'Japanese Maple' by Clive James



'Japanese Maple' is an achingly beautiful poem, worthy of reflection, by Clive James.

I'm reminded of Martyn Lloyd-Jones' comment to his daughter Elizabeth on the beauty of Tennyson's 'Crossing the Bar' as literature, but it's failure when it came to giving hope. Or again, as C S Lewis said in criticism of Rudyard Kipling, what was lacking was a 'doctrine of Ends', and what was left, in place of it, was 'a reverent Pagan agnosticism about all ultimates'.

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.So slow a fading out brings no real pain.Breath growing shortIs just uncomfortable. You feel the drainOf energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever seeSo much sweet beauty as when fine rain fallsOn that small treeAnd saturates your brick back garden walls,So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descendsThis glistening illuminates the air.It never ends.Whenever the rain comes it will be there,Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.What I must doIs live to see that. That will end the gameFor me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,A final flood of colors will live onAs my mind dies,Burned by my vision of a world that shoneSo brightly at the last, and then was gone.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Luther on true and false theologians (and donkeys)


The inimitable Luther on true theologians:

For as soon as God's Word takes root and grows in you, the Devil will harry you and will make a real theologian of you, for by his assaults he will teach you to seek and love God's Word. I myself am deeply indebted to my critics, that through the Devil's raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise.

And Luther on false theologians (and donkeys):

If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it--if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, "See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well." That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the Devil and his angels. 

The Path to Wisdom: Luther, theology and Psalm 119


Packer wrote the following gem about Luther's approach to doing theology:
When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119.

There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian.

The first is prayer for light and understanding.

The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text.

The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word.

Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and fidelity to truth whatever the cost, became the path along which theological wisdom is found is surely one of the profoundest utterances that the Christian world has yet heard.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Eternal Generation


Here's some clear thinking to straighten out any wonky thoughts about the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God:

Herman Bavinck:
In using these terms we are of course speaking in a human and hence an imperfect language, a fact that makes us cautious.  Yet we have the right to speak this language.  For just as the Bible speaks analogically of God's ear, eye, and mouth, so human generation is an analogy and image of the divine deed by which the Father gives the Son "to have life in himself."
But when we resort to this imagery, we must be careful to remove all associations with imperfection and sensuality from it.  The generation of a human being is imperfect and flawed.  A husband needs a wife to bring forth a son.  No man can ever fully impart his image, his whole nature, to a child or even to many children...But it is not so with God. (Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2, p. 308)
We must, accordingly, conceive that generation as being eternal in the true sense of the word.  It is not something that was completed and finished at some point in eternity, but an eternal unchanging act of God, at once always complete and eternally ongoing.  Just as it is natural for the sun to shine and for a spring to pour out water, so it is natural for the Father to generate the Son.  The Father is not and never was ungenerative; he begets everlastingly. (RD Vol 2, p. 310)
 Gregory of Nyssa spoke well and wisely on this very point:
Again when it interprets to us the unspeakable and transcendent existence of the Only-begotten from the Father, as the poverty of human intellect is incapable of receiving doctrines which surpass all power of speech and thought, there too it borrows our language and terms him "Son,"--a name which our usage assigns to those who are born of matter and nature.
But just as Scripture, when speaking of generation by creation, does not in the case of God imply that such generation took place by means of any material, affirming that the power of God's will served for material substance, place, time and all such circumstances, even so here too, when using the term Son, it rejects both all else that human nature remarks in generation here below,--I mean affections and dispositions and the co-operation of time, and the necessity of place,--and, above all, matter, without all which natural generation here below does not take place.
But when all such material, temporal and local existence is excluded from the sense of the term "Son," community of nature alone is left, and for this reason by the title "Son" is declared, concerning the Only-begotten, the close affinity and genuineness of relationship which mark his manifestation from the Father. (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II:9)

Incredulity towards the atonement


I'm re-reading Mike Horton's tome The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (a mere 990 pages if one chops off the glossary and indices).  There is a fascinating footnote (p. 64, n.81, to be precise) with some representative extracts from Immanuel Kant.

Note the following from Religion and Rational Theology:

It is totally inconceivable, however, how a rational human being who knows himself to deserve punishment could seriously believe that he only has to believe the news of a satisfaction having been rendered for him, and (as the jurists say) accept itutiliter [for one's advantage], in order to regard his guilt as done away with...No thoughtful person can bring himself to this faith.
That is Enlightenment man showing incredulity toward the atonement.

What lays at the very heart of sophisticated unbelief?

An attempt to deny the claims of God.  The exclusion of God's assessment of our condition by nature and as a result of sin, the silencing of the voice from heaven in favour of our own meditations on our nature, identity and capacities.  The declaration that man and not the living God will have the final say as to what is right, true and good.

At the epistemic level Kant located himself on the side of the serpent.  The thoughtful and rational person, in Kant's vision, is too good to need saving, and certainly too thoughtful to flee to Christ and his cross for refuge, even if he is deserving of punishment.  Instead of bowing his head before the claims of the Heavenly King we are confronted with a resistance at every turn against the external pressure of God's revelation.

Horton sums it up perfectly:

Kant, therefore, saw with great clarity the correlation between one's presuppositions about the human predicament and religious epistemology.  None of the Enlightenment figures wanted knowledge for invoking the name of God (i.e., the gospel), because they did not believe they needed to be saved. (p. 110)

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Ending of Thomas Hardy


Here are some fascinating extracts from the closing chapters of Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy:
On Boxing Day [1927] he asked for the Gospel account of the birth of Christ and the massacre of the innocents, and also the entries in the Encyclopedia Biblica, remarking when she [his wife Florence] had finished that there was not a grain of evidence that the Gospel was true.
On the final day of his life Tomalin notes the following incident:
Then he dictated to Florence two rough and rude epitaphs on disliked contemporaries.  One was George Moore, who had attacked him and was now accused of conceit.  The other, ungrammatical but clear in its intentions, went for G. K. Chesterton:

The literary contortionist
Who prove and never turn a hair
That Darwin's theories were a snare...
And if one with him could not see
He'd shout his choice word 'Blasphemy'.   
It was his final word against Church doctrine and in favour of rational thinking, exemplified by Darwin -- a magnificent blast from the sickbed.

One of the final comments in the book breathes an air of sadness:
He knew the past like a man who has lived more than one span of life, and he understood how difficult it is to cast aside the beliefs of his forebears.  At the same time he faced his own extinction with no wish to be comforted and no hope of immortality.
 The contrast between this ending and that of the seventy third psalm could not be more pronounced:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Friday, June 06, 2014

There is no shallow end of the theological pool


Before I learned to swim I would always look for the shallow end of the pool.  When it comes to the doctrine of God there is no shallow end:

His judgements are unsearchable (Rom. 11:33)
His ways are inscrutable (Rom. 11:33)
No one has known his mind (Rom. 11:34)
No one has been his counsellor (Rom. 11:34)

His greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3)

His understanding is unsearchable (Isa. 40:28)

Heaven, even the highest heaven cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27)

He inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15)

From everlasting to everlasting he is God (Psalm 90:2)

The depths of God are searched by the Spirit, and the Spirit comprehends the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11)

No one has seen God, God the only begotten, who is at the Father's side, has made him known (John 1:18)

The love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19)

Until and unless the weight of God's infinite being is straining your thoughts to breaking point, until and unless you have felt the finitude of your mental powers in contemplating the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you have not even begun to fathom the unfathomable depths of the One, Living, True, and Triune God.
When we say that Jesus existed "pre" his incarnation, we do not mean he preceded it by any finite amount of time.  The Son of God preexisted his incarnation the way that the Creator preexisted creation: infinitely.

Preexistence may be easy to say, but that one little syllable, pre-, is a quantum leap from Here to There, from time to eternity.  Before you have finished that syllable, you have left behind everything measurable and manageable.
Fred Sanders, Embracing the Trinity, p. 85

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Speaking & Sending: Some textual trinitarian distinctions



A minimal framework for Trinitarian belief would include the following affirmations:

A. There is only one God

B. There are three distinct persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son and the Spirit

C. Each of these persons is fully God

What should we consider to be the necessary and sufficient evidence to affirm these points?

1. That it can be shown from Scripture that there are distinctions between the persons, distinctions that show that the threeness of persons and oneness of essence are equally ultimate.

2. That it can be shown from Scripture that the titles, works, and worship that belong properly to the one true and living God, are given to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

3. That we read and interpret the biblical data conscious that the lens through which we view the Trinity is that of the economy of salvation (the Father sending the Son, the Son humbling himself and becoming incarnate as the last Adam, the Spirit of God coming to glorify Christ and apply his saving work). This lens is itself part of the biblical data.

On point (1) this evidence would include texts that speak of :

1.1. The sending of one divine person by another (e.g. Exodus 23:20-21; Isaiah 48:16; Malachi 3:1-2; John 15:26)

1.2. The work of one divine person in relation to another divine person (e.g. Isaiah 61:1-2; Hosea 1:7)

1.3. The ascription of divine titles and works to more than one person within the same literary unit (e.g. Genesis 19:24; Zechariah 2:9-12; Psalm 110:1; Joshua 24:2-12 cf. Judges 2:1-4; Malachi 3:1-2; John 1:1, 18; Galatians 1:3; Revelation 1:8, 17; 22:12-13)

1.4. Reference being made to more than one divine person within the same literary unit, to whom elsewhere in Scripture divine titles and works have been ascribed (e.g. Isaiah 48:16; 63:9-12)

1.5. One divine person speaking of another divine person (e.g. Exodus 23:20-22; Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 52:13, cf. Isaiah 6:1, 57:15, Hosea 1:6-7; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7; John 15:26)

1.6. One divine person speaking to another divine person (e.g. Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 45:6-7; Psalm 110:1; John 17:5)

Some of the texts and categories above are obviously interconnected. Exodus 23:20-21 fits into 1.1./1.3./ and 1.5. The selection of passages above is only representative. As there is a superabundance of NT passages I have chosen more from the OT.