Archive for August 2010

Foolishness of the cross

August 14th, 2010 — 1:46pm

“From a pagan perspective the cross is a sacrifice in the ‘proper’ sense: destruction of the agent of social instability in the interests of social order, and the surrender of the particular to the universal; but the shape of Christ’s life, its constant motion of love, forgiveness, and righteous judgment, seems (from this same perspective) no sacrifice at all, but merely an uneconomizable force of disorder, an inversion of rank and judicious measure. The God who proceeds as he will, who crosses boundaries and respects no order – law, commerce, empire, class, nations, dominions, markets, death – except the order of love (the only infinite order), is a Word that disrupts the narratives that sustain the world as a reserve, a controlled expenditure, and a recuperation of power. It is expedient that such a Word be silenced, lest the nation perish.” (David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 353)

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On the nurture of children

August 13th, 2010 — 12:07pm

“Let it be the principal part of your care and labour in all their education, to make holiness appear to them the most necessary, honourable, gainful, pleasant, delightful, amiable state of life; and to keep them from apprehending it either as needless, dishonourable, hurtful, or uncomfortable. Especially draw them to the love of it, by representing it as lovely. And therefore begin with that which is easiest and most grateful to them (as the history of the Scripture, and the lives of the martyrs, and other good men, and some short, familiar lessons). For though in restraining them from sin, you must go to the highest step at first, and not think to draw them from it by allowing them the least degree; (for every degree disposeth to more, and none is to be allowed, and a general reformation is the easiest as well as absolutely necessary;) yet in putting them upon the practice of religious duties, you must carry them on by degrees, and put them at first upon no more than they can bear; either upon the learning of doctrines too high and spiritual for them, or upon such duty for quality or quantity as is over-burdensome to them; for if you once turn their hearts against religion, and make it seem a slavery and a tedious life to them, you take the course to harden them against it. And therefore all children must not be used alike; as all stomachs must not be forced to eat alike. If you force some to take so much as to become a surfeit, they will loathe that sort of meat as long as they live. I know that nature itself, as corrupt, hath already an enmity to holiness, and I know that this enmity is not to be indulged in children at all; but withal I know that misrepresentations of religion, and imprudent education, is the way to increase it, and that the enmity being in the heart, it is the change of the mind and love that is the overcoming of it, and not any such constraint as tendeth not to reconcile the mind by love. The whole skill of parents for the holy education of their children, doth consist in this, to make them conceive of holiness as the most amiable and desirable life; which is by representing it to them in words and practice, not only as most necessary, but also as most profitable, honourable, and delightful. Prov. iii. 17, ‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace,’ &c.” (Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, p. 451)

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London and Mecca

August 12th, 2010 — 1:42pm

Muslims understand what many Christians do not: that to answer the question “What time is it?” is to define the history of the world; and that to impose one’s answer to this question is to shape the destiny of the world. For over a century, the world has set its clocks by a tower in a former center of Christendom; will it soon be setting its clocks by a tower at the center of worldwide Islam (article here)? Symbolic victories are victories, make no mistake about it; and the one religion on the planet with a serious program for world conquest (since Christendom went all soft and pluralistic) is set to pull off a coup.

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Not of this world

August 12th, 2010 — 8:50am

The fact that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (ek tou kosmou toutou) does not mean that His kingdom is not in this world, or that His kingdom is not visibly manifested in the world, or that His kingdom will not come and prevail in the world.

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Sacred center

August 12th, 2010 — 5:54am

“The Old Testament order in Israel was similar in many respects to the order of Ancient Near Eastern civilizations or Greece. In Israel as in Athens, the city and temple were seen at the center of the world. Everything moved centripetally toward the temple. Exile was the final and most severe curse of the Old Testament.

“At the heart of the gospel, however, is the announcement that this order of sacred center and profane distance has been destroyed. Instead of a single place for an [earthly] temple, the New Testament announces a heavenly temple, equally accessible from any point on earth. The commission of the Greater Joshua is not to enter the land in order to stay there; rather it is ‘Go, make disciples of all nations.’ The gospel further promotes the deep comedy of adventure because it declares that there is no chaos outside the city. Christ is Lord of all, and all things are, in principle, subdued to Him.” (Peter Leithart, Deep Comedy, p. 121)

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Morning prayer

August 8th, 2010 — 6:12am

“Illumine our hearts, O Sovereign Master, who lovest man, with the pure light of thy wisdom, and open the eyes of our understanding to the comprehension of the proclamation of thy Gospel. Implant in us, also, the fear of thy blessed commandments; that trampling down all carnal appetites, we may lead a godly life, both thinking and doing always such things as are well pleasing in thy sight.

“For thou art the sanctification and the illumination both of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto thee we ascribe glory, together with thy Father, who hath no beginning, and thine all-holy and blessed and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

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

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End of courtship

August 6th, 2010 — 12:34pm

It has been some time since I read anything with so much enthusiasm as this three-part article by Leon Kass: part 1, part 2, part 3. I was first introduced to Leon and Amy Kass through their work, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. The present article should be digested by every serious-minded modern Christian; I do not believe there is any hope for the revolution Kass longs to see – and of which our civilization stands in the direst possible need – except through a revitalized Christendom in which God’s people resolutely refuse to continue their compromises with the spirit of the age. (For those who may be interested, and who wondered about the ellipses in Kass’s article, here is a link to the full original piece.)

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Origin and supplement

August 5th, 2010 — 8:18am

“A (small-u) unitarian theology proper necessarily leads to a tragic view of creation, for anything that ‘goes out’ from a unitarian origin is necessarily a diminished supplement, perhaps even a deicide. If a unitarian god could conceivably create (which is theologically doubtful), creation could not be a glorification of god. Unitarianism is inherently Gnostic, and Gnosticism is hyper-tragic, since it treats the creation itself as a fall, a tragic departure from an origin, an exile. For the Gnostic, to be created is to be abandoned, alienated, in a far country, and the only hope is return. Within a triune God, by contrast, there is always already a ‘departure,’ but a departure that does not involve any diminishment from the origin. The Son is equal to the Father in power and glory; the Father can beget a Son who does not diminish or veil His glory. This Son does not efface the Father; instead, the Father, though full of all glory, is ineffably, mysteriously ‘glorified’ by the Son. Such a God can make a world that does not demand a diminishment of His being, since He has eternally produced a Son who does not diminish His being.” (Peter Leithart, Deep Comedy, pp. 86–87)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

On the courthouse steps

August 4th, 2010 — 1:53pm

As Reformed Christians, we’re excited about what God has done for us in His courtroom. And we should be. It’s unbelievable. “That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me”? The righteous for the unrighteous? Constituted righteous by one Man’s obedience? Utterly amazing.

I believe there exists in our circles, however, a kind of preoccupation with the divine courtroom that is terribly unhealthy. I refer to the preoccupation of some of God’s people with the question: am I really forgiven? (It takes varying forms, actually: is God really for me? does He really love me? am I really His child? did Jesus really die for me? etc.) Now, this is not the same thing as a believing soul’s continual hunger for, and delight in, the gospel; the normal Christian life is one lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” What I have in mind is something else: a settled unsettledness about the eternal state of one’s soul; a regular revisiting of the courtroom verdict, not with joy but with anxiety; a feeling that if one doesn’t feel a certain measure of angst, of desperateness, in approaching the issue of justification, one is near to compromising (and is certainly at least devaluing) the article of the standing church; or more insidious still, belief that talk of anything beyond the courtroom is a step away from the gospel.

I know Christians who are spending their entire lives on the courthouse steps, looking over their shoulder, wondering if they can really trust the pardoning verdict, or even if it actually occurred. They desperately need to hear it again and again, not because they believe it, but because they don’t. They stubbornly refuse to move off the courthouse precincts into the home and family room of God, to claim Him as their Father (and to know He rejoices in this), to eat His bread and wine, to celebrate His gifts and His unfailing love. Indeed, they seem to find pious reassurance in the fact that they are unsure, that they don’t trust the Almighty too much. Their doubts and fears are their insurance against dreaded presumption.

There are preachers – Reformed preachers – whose ministry feeds this kind of spiritual sickness. For them, conversion is the driving theme of every sermon: are you right with God? are you in Christ? where will you spend eternity? It doesn’t seem to occur to them that it could be biblically normative for God’s children to regard the question of their eternal state as settled in Christ (this is, after all, the point of the gospel); or that the summons to faithfulness might be better grounded in assurance than in uncertainty; or that a secure, conclusive answer to the courtroom question might open the way for some other highly important considerations (from God’s point of view) in the living room.

There is a kind of preoccupation with the question of God’s love that calls His love into question – that in fact impugns His character as Father and makes Him appear hard, even loveless. There is a fine but important line between faith’s normal struggles in this world, and a spirit of wicked unbelief that is really a subtle form of pride: I believe my own doubts (and Satan’s whisperings) more than the Word of God who cannot lie.

Take Jesus’ statement, “I am the Bread of Life.” For some Reformed saints, eating the Bread is simply a matter of life and death. Fine. It is that; no question about it. But I don’t eat my dinner simply because I will die if I don’t, true though that may be. I eat it because it is good, because it is nourishing, because (dare I say) I like it. It doesn’t simply stave off death; and in fact if I am really healthy, I don’t think about death while I am eating; I have other things to think about. There is more to the Bread of Life – there is more to life – than not dying. There is more to the good news in Christ than bare forgiveness of sins, a favorable courtroom verdict, as fundamental as this is. To change the metaphor, an engine doth not an automobile make: yes, our lives are lived by faith in what Christ accomplished for us in His death and resurrection, but believing we live. The car goes somewhere! We live in covenant with the Lord our God, we and our seed; and precisely because His salvation is sure, beyond question, we live with Him faithfully and well.

To put all this yet another way (I’m on a roll, you see), there is more than one way to undermine confidence in God’s courtroom verdict: one can doubt it, question it, or deny it; or one can make it the be-all and end-all of life with God, as if to think about anything else will render it null and void. But the way to truly enjoy God’s verdict is to skip down the courthouse steps and take up residence in His family room, to enter into the familial life He intended when He announced the verdict. In a certain glorious sense, we ought to take the Judge’s verdict for granted (which is to say, trust it), and get busy living with our Father. Don’t stop with justification; go on to embrace the whole salvation of God.

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