Archive for July 2010

Promoting repentance

July 28th, 2010 — 1:03pm

The discipline of repentance is hardly flourishing in the contemporary church. Even where it is practiced, it is often deeply misunderstood (not least because it is one of the Christian disciplines most easily distorted by legalism). John Colquhoun’s work, Evangelical Repentance, is probably the best thing I’ve read on the subject. Here is a very practical excerpt:

“Put to yourself seriously such questions as these: What have I been intending and pursuing all my days? What has been the rule of my conduct? the maxims of men, or the Word of God? the customs of the world, or the example of Christ? What has the supreme love of my heart been fixed on? Have I given to Christ, or to the world, my strongest desires and warmest attachments? Has it been my habitual intention to please God, or to please myself? Has it been His glory that I have aimed at in every pursuit, or my own gratification, wealth or honour? Is it in heaven or upon earth that I have chiefly been aiming, to lay up treasures for myself? Has God in Christ been the delightful subject of my frequent meditation and conversation? or have I regarded religious thoughts and converse as insipid and wearisome? Have I been out of my element when employed in the delightful work of prayer and praise, of reading and hearing the glorious Gospel? and have I found more pleasure in licentious mirth and trifling conversation? Have I kept the Sabbath, and with holy reverence frequented the sanctuary of the Lord? or have I profaned His Sabbath, and poured contempt on His ordinances? And have I relied for all my right to eternal life on the surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ, and trusted cordially in Him for all His salvation? or have I relied for a title to life partly on my own works, and trusted in Him for a part only of His salvation? Propose with impartiality these questions to yourself, and suffer conscience to return a faithful answer, in order that you may so discern your self-deformity, as to abhor yourself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Battle lines

July 27th, 2010 — 7:00am

As God’s people in the 21st century, we must ask ourselves whether the frenetic, quietless rush of our lives is evidence that we are busy fighting the battles of our Lord’s kingdom, or that in fact we are losing them.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Pious gloss

July 25th, 2010 — 7:37am

“Creatures . . . are entirely and utterly dependent upon the Creator. To suggest that creatures might desire God ‘indifferently’ is to suggest that they can desire God without need. But creatures are nothing but need, nothing but what we have received. Pious as it sounds to ‘desire God for God’s sake,’ it is utterly pagan and simply a pious gloss on the Satanic temptation to be as God.” (Peter J. Leithart, Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, and Hope in Western Literature, p. 32)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

Morning prayer

July 25th, 2010 — 7:33am

“O Lord our God, who hast banished from us the sluggishness of sleep, and hast assembled us together by a holy bidding, that in the night-season also we may lift up our hands, and make unto thee thankful acknowledgement of thy righteous judgments: Accept our prayers, petitions, confessions of thanks and nocturnal worship; and grant unto us, O God, faith invincible, love unwavering, hope unfeigned. Bless our goings out and our comings in; our deeds and works, and words and thoughts. And grant that we may come to the beginning of this day praising, singing and blessing the goodness of thine ineffable beneficence.

“For blessed is thine all-holy Name, and all-magnified is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, ed. Isabel Florence Hapgood)

Comment » | Grace and Life

Rabbit has Brain

July 24th, 2010 — 2:31pm

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”

“And he has Brain.”

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”

There was a long silence.

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

(A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner)

Comment » | Belly Laughs

On conscience

July 23rd, 2010 — 8:48am

“Before the fall, strictly speaking, there was no conscience in humans. There was no gap between what they were and what they knew they had to be. Being and self-consciousness were in harmony. But the fall produced separation. By the grace of God, humans still retain the consciousness that they ought to be different, that in all respects they must conform to God’s law. But reality witnesses otherwise; they are not who they ought to be. And this witness is the conscience.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.173)

Comment » | Arete’s Riddles

Crime and disease

July 22nd, 2010 — 9:52am

“If criminals are to be treated as sick people, the downside of this is that the sick must be ‘nursed’ in the manner of criminals. If the state has no other right to act against criminals than thereby to protect itself and to improve them, on what grounds then will it be denied the right to deal with all kinds of sick people on its own authority and by its own methods, to view the religious and moral convictions on which it cannot agree as so many diseases, remnants and aftereffects of an earlier state, and to take charge of the entire upbringing of its citizens and the whole culture of the society in question? Those who wipe out the boundaries between crime and disease let a state grounded in principles of justice decline into a state based on cultural mores, violate freedom in the life of the people, and hand all its citizens over to the arbitrariness and omnipotence of the state.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.166)

Readers should also consult C. S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics.

Comment » | Of Cabbages and Kings

Morning prayer

July 18th, 2010 — 6:02am

“O God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hast raised us up from our beds, and hast gathered us together at this hour of prayer: Grant us grace in the opening of our lips, and accept our thanksgivings as we have power to make them; and instruct us in thy statutes. For we know not how to pray as we ought unless thou, O Lord, by thy Holy Spirit, dost guide us. Wherefore we beseech thee: Pardon, remit, forgive whatsoever sins we may have committed unto this present hour, whether by word, or deed, or thought, whether voluntarily or involuntarily; for if thou wilt be extreme to mark iniquity, O Lord, Lord, who shall stand? For with thee is redemption. For thou only art holy, a mighty helper and the defender of our life; and our song shall be ever of thee.

“Blessed and glorified be the might of thy kingdom, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, ed. Isabel Florence Hapgood)

Comment » | Grace and Life

De Civitate Dei

July 17th, 2010 — 12:15pm

I’m reading through David VanDrunen’s recent work, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, and I’m a bit hung up in his analysis of Augustine’s City of God (see pp. 22–32). I do want to be clear that in what follows I am simply making notes and asking some questions; I’m nowhere near ready to offer any kind of review of VanDrunen’s work as a whole.

Here is a summary of VanDrunen’s reading of Augustine (p. 32):

“[Augustine] refused to embrace an idyllic, theocratic, or Christianized view of the world. Christians here on earth are a people on pilgrimage, their citizenship and their hope lying in an everlasting, heavenly city. Civil society (the Roman Empire), roughly associated with the City of Man, is ultimately vain and condemned, but serves limited, yet good, earthly and temporal purposes of which Christians ought to make use. Thus, on a certain level civil society is characterized by things that are religiously indifferent per se, though at a more ultimate level – concerning what one loves and what one’s supreme good is – there is no commonality at all with the City of God.”

It’s that little phrase “roughly associated” that keeps blinking at me. Just for fun, let’s replace it with a symbol (=?). On the left side of the “equation” (=?) we have “civil society” with “Roman Empire” immediately following in parentheses. Let’s bracket that first:

[Civil society / Roman Empire] (=?) City of Man

Civil society cannot and should not be equated (=) with a particular civil society. Civil society is ordained by God, and is therefore good; particular civil societies (Rome, for example) are deeply corrupted by sin; so identification of these two things on the left side of the equation introduces a very big question mark into the overall equation. Because, spiritually and morally speaking, civil society really doesn’t equal (≠) the Roman Empire (or any other particular civil society), we have to introduce the question mark (=?).

Civil society (≠) Roman Empire (=?) City of Man

Maybe if we use just one of the terms on the left side, we can erase the question mark? Let’s see. We certainly can’t say that civil society itself is identical to (=), or directly associated with, the City of Man, for this would confuse a good ordinance with its corruption by sinful humans. We might be on firmer ground if we tried to equate the Roman Empire (or another particular civil society) with the City of Man; but, as both Augustine and VanDrunen acknowledge, this doesn’t quite work, either, because there are both lovers of God (citizens of the City of God) and lovers of self (citizens of the City of Man) in any particular civil society (including Rome).

Civil society (≠) City of Man

Roman Empire (≠) City of Man

Hmmm . . . no wonder there’s a question mark. (In fairness to VanDrunen, the question mark is mine; but I think it is definitely implied in his phrase “roughly associated.”) Let me wrap up by offering a few suggestions for further exploration:

Scripture plainly teaches what some have called “the antithesis”: the irreducible distinction, and conflict, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. I think we could equate the seed of the woman with Augustine’s City of God and the seed of the serpent with his City of Man. Scripture also teaches that God has ordained distinct spheres of human association: church, family, and state, for example. Let’s diagram these two biblical distinctions thus:

1. Seed of woman (City of God) / seed of serpent (City of Man)

2. Ecclesiastical sphere / non-ecclesiastical spheres (e.g., family, state)

I think just setting it out like this underscores the need for extreme caution in collapsing these two sets of binaries into each other: it is hugely problematic, for example, to identify the seed of the serpent with the non-ecclesiastical spheres. Now VanDrunen doesn’t read Augustine as doing this, precisely (and neither do I); but he certainly seems to read Augustine as doing so “roughly,” and that’s where my questions come in. But there’s more: VanDrunen wants to show that early Reformed thinkers, drawing on Augustine and others, “grounded social life in God’s work of creation and providence, not in his work of redemption” (p. 15). Here’s a third set of binaries:

1. Seed of woman (City of God) / seed of serpent (City of Man)

2. Ecclesiastical sphere / non-ecclesiastical spheres (e.g., family, state)

3. Redemption / creation and providence

Did the early Reformers, drawing on Augustine and others, “roughly associate” redemption, the ecclesiastical sphere, and the City of God, while also “roughly associating” creation/providence, the non-ecclesiastical spheres, and the City of Man? I’ll have to read on to see how VanDrunen parses the historical details. And I think I will probably have some more questions.

Comment » | From the Dead Thinkers

The justice of the kingdom

July 17th, 2010 — 7:39am

“However primary the path of nonviolence is for the Christian, the peace of God’s kingdom is exhaustively described in Scripture, and it is the peace of a concrete condition of justice; it is neither the private practice of an ‘ethical’ individual, jealous of his own moral purity, nor the special and quaint regime of a separatist community that stands aloof from (in ill-concealed contempt for) its ‘Constantinian’ brethren. Where the justice of the kingdom is not present, and cannot be made present without any exercise of force, the self-adoring inaction of those who would meet the reality of, say, black smoke billowing from the chimneys of death camps with songs of protest is simply violence by other means, and does not speak of God’s kingdom, and does not grant its practitioners the privilege of viewing themselves as more faithful members of Christ’s body than those who struggle against evil in the world of flesh and blood where evil works. . . . The justice of God – the peace of God – can be found and fought for in the heart of history, for the kingdom has already come – the tomb is empty – and will come again; the battle has been won, and we must seek to prepare the earth for a victory that has already claimed us as its spoils.” (David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, pp. 341–42)

Comment » | Gospel and Kingdom

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