Archive for May 2010

Western Civ.

May 20th, 2010 — 4:27pm

Okay, history of western civilization in a few paragraphs. Out of the basically tribal cultures and conflicts of the ancient near east, there eventually emerged four great world powers: Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. These are the four great empires which together composed the mighty image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2; they appeared as four beasts in Daniel 7; and they appeared in late form as the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13.

The unified message of the prophets and apostles is that when Christ stripped principalities and powers on the cross, rose from the dead as the Son of God in power, and ascended the holy hill of Zion to sit at the Father’s right hand, the messianic kingdom of God was inaugurated, and all rule and authority and power and dominion have been put under His feet. The mighty image of Daniel 2 was toppled once for all, never to rise in power again. The terminus of the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar’s image was the collapse of Rome around A.D. 476.

There has not since the fall of Rome been a world-dominating pagan power. Two great religious powers have vied for conquest of the world: the power of Christendom, and another power which arose out of the Arabian desert in the mid-eighth century – we know it today as Islam. These two religious powers are still locked in combat for the souls of men and nations, and will likely be so for many years to come. But noteworthy is that Islam is essentially a perversion of Christianity – it was fashioned in part from the revelatory material of Christianity and Christianity’s ancestor, Judaism. Christ still has His enemies, but they have arisen from within the pale of His kingdom; the ancient powers that once stood without are gone forever.

What about the so-called Enlightenment, the “power” of secular humanism, which has eaten away at the vitals of western Christendom? This whole ideology is a parasite on its host. It is incapable of sustaining civilization, because it acknowledges no deity, goodness, truth, or beauty transcending the individual self. Lacking even the risible gods of paganism, it remains unstable as water and will not excel. It will in time be relegated to the dustbin of history.

I should probably be glad comments are not open after writing something like this. . . .

Comment » | The Way of All the Earth

Eucharistic controversy

May 19th, 2010 — 11:03am

Here is E. Brooks Holifield, commenting on the eucharistic controversy between Charles Hodge and John Williamson Nevin in the mid-nineteenth century:

“The controversy illuminated two distinguishable tendencies in nineteenth century American Reformed theology. While remaining with the Reformed tradition, Nevin demonstrated a willingness to accept categories of continuity that at times approximated the Roman Catholic tradition: continuity between creation and redemption, between the divine and human natures of Christ, between the first Adam and the second, and between the visible Church with its efficacious means of grace and the ideal communion of true saints. Charles Hodge, on the other hand, carried almost to its logical terminus another pattern present within the Reformed tradition: the impulse to accent discontinuity, in various ways, as the prevailing theological category. In the course of their polemics, therefore, Hodge and Nevin not only delineated the contours of two divergent Reformed eucharistic doctrines, but they also displayed two conflicting modes of theological reflection and produced the indices for identifying a spectrum of sacramental positions.” (E. Brooks Holifield, “Mercersburg, Princeton, and the South: The Sacramental Controversy in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Presbyterian History 54 [1976], pp. 238–257)

Professor Holifield goes on to explore how, for these nineteenth century disputants, the question of the relationship between sacramental elements and sacramental grace was closely tied to the question (so fiercely debated in the fourth and fifth centuries) of the union of Christ’s divine and human natures, to the issue of the soteriological significance (if any) of Christ’s Incarnation, and to questions regarding a proper definition of the church. Variances in sacramental theology, both Hodge and Nevin understood, are intimately related to variances in Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology.

Comment » | Incarnation and Embodiment

Rules of engagement

May 17th, 2010 — 12:30pm

My father was a primary school educator for thirty-nine years. He and my mother reared a family of three children, all of whom are walking faithfully with the Lord. He did all this while serving as a lay pastor for some dozen years. Let’s just say he knows a lot about people, and about little people in particular. When he speaks, I listen.

Recently he and I were discussing why communication breaks down between parents and their “teenage” children (I don’t believe in the whole notion of “teens,” incidentally, but that’s another story). He gave me a huge window of insight when he told me that, in his experience, around the age of eight children stop looking for meaningful engagement (“connection,” as it is sometimes called) with their parents and start looking to their peers instead. But a main reason, he said, why children stop trying to engage with their parents around this age is that the parents have made it clear they’re not really interested. Often, the children have been not just neglected or ignored; they know their parents find them downright irritating. The reason for the social and attitudinal transition, then, lies in general with the parents, not the children (who simply take their relational needs to those who will respond, i.e., their peers).

Running this through the grid of my own experience, it’s important to know what my father has in mind when he speaks of meaningful engagement. I know a lot of Christian parents try very hard to be involved in the lives of their young children. They are not passive – the kind of dads who sit in front of the television all evening, the kind of moms who visibly want to escape from their children at every opportunity. But it needs to be observed that one can do a lot of things with and for one’s children (take them to soccer games, attend school plays and PTA meetings, even read books and play games) and still not necessarily engage them meaningfully. One can, as a Christian parent, even have consistent family worship, catechize, and talk to one’s children, and still not engage them meaningfully. The last preposition is important: talking to a child is not the same thing as talking with a child in a way that opens up his or her inner thought-world, the heart out of which issue the springs of his or her life. And it is this latter kind of communication my father has in mind, and which he and my mother practiced brilliantly in rearing me.

Building a bridge to another human heart takes effort, whether that human is young or old. One must ask questions without intimidating. One must take more time than one reasonably has. One must learn to think the way another person thinks, which is often about as much fun as learning to speak a foreign language. One must encounter alien fears, alien joys, alien sorrows, alien ways of processing information. This is acutely difficult with children, especially young children who know next to nothing about communicating (do tantrums count?). It takes effort to figure out why a child is angry or sad. It takes effort to figure out how to help a child connect what she knows with something she doesn’t yet know. It takes effort to value what a little boy values. It is painstaking to intuit what is making a child’s eyes gleam with pleasure, or flash with frustration. How is one to see and feel what a child sees and feels when the child can’t articulate it? But then, are these problems so very different from those we encounter with other adults? Is it ever easy to cross the grand canyon between ourselves and another soul?

But the proof of a pudding, as they say, is in the eating. When a child has grown up with parents who expend the effort to “connect”; when a child has never known a day when it is not the most natural thing in the world to talk eye-to-eye with mom and dad; when a child learns from day one that mom and dad care deeply about what’s going on inside him, even when (especially when) he is being a real brat; this is the capital from which a family draws in challenging years when self-consciousness emerges with a vengeance, and the world is filled with recalcitrant questions and drives. I passed through some very troubled water as a “teen,” but it was too late – my heart was already knit to my parents. Even when I slammed the door as hard as I could in their faces, I couldn’t escape the fact that I wanted them to beat it down. I wanted to talk to them about what was going on inside, because that was how it had been for years.

I might add that parents who have the hearts of their children, and energetically maintain this privilege, need not fear usurpation by peers. Influences will come, but there is a basis to work with a child in responding to those influences, as one sees in the opening chapters of Proverbs. There is no formula here, and cases are different, but as a general rule the child who enjoys meaningful engagement with his or her parents from the earliest years will not be eager to give this up. It will even be possible to draw peers into this engagement; it will be possible for parents to care for their children’s peers whose home lives are a wreck. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Comment » | Hearth and Home

Disturbing reality

May 14th, 2010 — 9:31am

“Believers are willing to look at the disturbing reality of life; they do not scatter flowers over graves, turn death into an angel, regard sin as mere weakness, or consider this the best of possible worlds. Calvinism has no use for such drivel. It refuses to be hoodwinked. It takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God. This almighty God is also, we believe, our merciful Father. This is not a ‘solution’ but an invitation to rest in God.” (Bavinck, p. 2.341)

Comment » | Life in Front of the Curtain

On predestination

May 14th, 2010 — 9:30am

“Scripture teaches that faith is a gift of God’s grace, a work of God. Though in theory a person may be Pelagian, in the practice of the Christian life, above all in prayer, every Christian is an Augustinian. Self-glorying is excluded, and God alone is given the honor. Even foreknowledge, by definition, is predestination. Either God knows the elect with certainty or not at all. If he does, foreknowledge is redundant. If not, even foreknowledge has to go. The doctrine of predestination, therefore, is a dogma of the entire Christian church.” (Bavinck, p. 2.339)

Comment » | Life in Front of the Curtain

A mouthful

May 14th, 2010 — 9:04am

“Generation and procession in the divine being are the immanent acts of God, which make possible the outward works of creation and revelation.” (Bavinck, p. 2.333)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

God and gifts

May 14th, 2010 — 8:57am

I recall a memorable conversation I once had with a friend. We were both sipping a beer, and he said to me, “Do you know how I know I’m an amillennialist? Because I look at this beer, and I think about the fact that it could damn me.”

Whether my friend was right to link his concern about his beer with a particular eschatological viewpoint, I am not prepared to say; I happened to share his viewpoint, and I was enjoying my beer just fine. But there is something here to which I think every serious Christian can relate: the question of how to enjoy the good gifts of God, the savor and beauty of created things, without falling into the sin of idolatry, of worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).

This interaction with John Piper’s “Christian hedonism” shows us how the doctrine of the Trinity can help us with that question. I found it extraordinarily useful.

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

Locating the Trinity

May 14th, 2010 — 8:08am

“The thinking mind situates the doctrine of the Trinity squarely amid the full-orbed life of nature and humanity. A Christian’s confession is not an island in the ocean but a high mountaintop from which the whole creation can be surveyed. And it is the task of Christian theologians to present clearly the connectedness of God’s revelation with, and its significance for, all of life. The Christian mind remains unsatisfied until all of existence is referred back to the triune God, and until the confession of God’s Trinity functions at the center of our thought and life.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 2.330)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

Under the sun

May 13th, 2010 — 7:26am

If we were to paraphrase the wisdom of Qohelet, it might run something like this: Life under the sun isn’t paradise anymore. It’s crooked, empty, broken beyond remedy. But the day will come when God will bring every deed into judgment, and unveil the beauty of His every purpose. And since He rules time as well as eternity, the unfolding as well as the end of all things, His daily will is trustworthy, and we enact our trust by partaking of food and drink, wine and oil, labor and love. One who knows paradise is no longer and not yet, but is surely coming through the rule of God, may rejoice in the fruit of his toil under the sun – for it is the gift of God.

Comment » | Qohelet’s Musings

Biblical dualism

May 12th, 2010 — 9:56am

An undeniable biblical dualism exists between things seen and transient and things unseen and eternal (2 Cor 4:18). However, the fact that something is heavenly in its origin, and invisible and eternal in its nature, does not prevent it from “taking flesh” and becoming visible (if this were not so, the Incarnation could never have occurred). The gospel is the inbreaking of eternal things (specifically, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; the heavenly glory revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, and unveiled in Christ) into the hearts of the children of men (2 Cor 4:6; cf. 3:3), with the result that they receive the Spirit as a guarantee of the life that will one day swallow up mortality (2 Cor 5:5) and are incorporated into a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). And the new creation always makes itself visible (it takes flesh, as it were) in holiness of body and spirit (2 Cor 7:1), in liberality of grace and good works (2 Cor 8:2; 9:6–11), and in warfare against “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:4–5).

The heavenly pattern revealed to Moses on Sinai took visible shape in an earthly tabernacle, and later in the temple. The same heavenly pattern has now been manifested in Christ and the church. Along similar lines, the kingdom of Christ originates in heaven (it is “not of this world”), and yet it takes definite visible shape in the world.

It is not wrong to speak of a “dualism” of heaven and earth, of eternal and temporal, provided we understand that heaven insists on coming to earth – it simply won’t stay put. Which is to say, we are not permitted to put asunder by our “dualism” what God insists on joining together.

Comment » | Incarnation and Embodiment

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