Archive for May 2011

Third Sunday after Easter

May 16th, 2011 — 8:31am

A day late, but here’s the latest collect from Cranmer:

“Almighty God, which showest to all men that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all them that be admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew those things that be contrary to their profession, and follow such things as be agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Comment » | Grace and Life

Revised structure in 2 Samuel 22

May 12th, 2011 — 7:44pm

Here’s a revised proposal regarding the chiastic structure of 2 Samuel 22:

A          Praise to Yahweh for deliverance (vv. 2–4)

B            Yahweh routs the king’s enemies (vv. 5–20)

C              The king’s faithfulness (vv. 21–25, 3rd person)

D                Yahweh’s varied faces (vv. 26–27, 2nd person)

E                  Yahweh’s friends and foes (v. 28, 2nd person)

D´              Yahweh’s face toward the king (vv. 29–30, 2nd person)

C´            Yahweh’s faithfulness (vv. 31–35, 3rd person)

B´          The king routs his enemies (vv. 36–46, 2nd person)

A´        Praise to Yahweh for deliverance (vv. 47–51)

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

Christianity that lasts

May 12th, 2011 — 3:10pm

I’ve recently been reading Philip Jenkins’ The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – and How It Died. A very eye-opening work, with all sorts of contemporary relevance.

To illustrate, here’s a history lesson the church today would do well to ponder: Jenkins asks why the Christian church in North Africa simply disappeared in the wake of the Muslim invasions of the seventh and eighth centuries, while the Christian church in Egypt has survived to this day and even flourished under Muslim rule. He offers this telling proposal (p. 35):

“The key difference making for survival is . . . how deep a church planted its roots in a particular community, and how far the religion became part of the air that ordinary people breathed [emphasis mine]. The Egyptian church succeeded wonderfully in this regard, while the Africans failed to make much impact beyond the towns. While the Egyptians put the Christian faith in the language of the ordinary people, from city dwellers through peasants, the Africans concentrated only on certain categories, certain races. Egyptian Christianity became native; its African counterpart was colonial. This difference became crucial when a faith that was formed in one set of social and political arrangements had to adapt to a new world. When society changed, when cities crumbled, when persecution came, the faith would continue in one region but not another.”

Comment » | The Way of All the Earth

Movies and video games

May 11th, 2011 — 1:41pm

A friend recently asked me why I am a fan of movies but an ardent decrier of video games. What follows is an attempt to respond to that sensible question; my thoughts aren’t particularly well-refined, so take them cum grano salis:

I would want to say initially that I believe an excess of movies can be every bit as deleterious to a child’s development as video games. Children tend to view movies as pure entertainment – no thinking required, all the imaginative work is done for you – and a lust for entertainment is not something I want to cultivate at all. That said, I believe film is a completely different cultural medium from the video game; about the only thing they share in common is a screen.

Video games invite children to participate in activities such as exploring, problem-solving, musical performance, competitive sport, fighting, etc., but to do so virtually rather than in the real world. There are two problems with this: (1) I want my children to live their lives in the world God made, not in a man-made virtual world; and I want them to engage the world using their bodies and brains together, rather than just their brains with the aid of a hand-held control. (2) Video games tend to be addictive precisely because they invite an indeterminate amount of activity (you can keep playing, and playing, and playing, because the activity never ends), without a clear terminus and incentive to walk away.

A movie is completely different. It does not offer an alternative reality to the real world, except in the sense that every story invites sympathetic participation in the lives of its characters (if this were unhealthy, God would have written His Bible very differently!). It does not offer a world that competes with the one God made; nor does it not offer a sphere of pseudo-activity where one can “live and move and have one’s being” virtually. Because of this, and because it has a clear terminus, a movie does not present the same temptations to addiction that a video game does.

More positively, I think of film as a subset of the “storytelling” category of human culture, which flows out of our bearing the image of God, the ultimate Storyteller. Viewing a film is arguably less demanding than listening to or reading literature (though digesting a good film is no easy task!); certainly one participates in the story of a film differently from the way one participates in the story of a book (the eyes are more involved, for one thing). But the fundamental activity (engaging a story) is the same. And in this regard, we must ask whether God Himself does not authorize storytelling that appeals to the visual sense: Isn’t this an implication of the sacraments, or of the various enactments in scripture of a word from the Lord (think of certain strange activities of the prophet Ezekiel)?

Someone might want to say that video games are “creative” whereas film-watching is entirely passive. I think this reflects ignorance both of video games and of film: To the extent one “creates” at all in a video game (the whole experience looks a whole lot more to me like stimulus-response), one does so entirely within the boundaries (visual and conceptual) dictated by the creators of the video game. Film, on the other hand, sets a story before the viewer and leaves the viewer’s response (critical, appreciative, or both) entirely to the viewer.

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Structure in 2 Samuel 22

May 10th, 2011 — 4:14pm

I’m outlining 2 Samuel 22 for an upcoming sermon. Various commentators see a chiastic structure in the text, but I haven’t found a proposal that’s detailed enough to be really helpful, especially when it comes to verses 26–46. Here’s one of my own:

A          Praise to Yahweh for deliverance (vv. 2–4)

B            Yahweh routs the king’s enemies (vv. 5–20)

C              The character of the king (vv. 21–25, 3rd person)

D                The mysterious ways of Yahweh (vv. 26–30, 2nd person)

C´            The character of Yahweh (vv. 31–35, 3rd person)

B´          The king routs his enemies (vv. 36–46, 2nd person)

A´        Praise to Yahweh for deliverance (vv. 47–51)

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

Priority of the Bible

May 10th, 2011 — 7:45am

“When the Church has suffered seriously, i.e., not from without but inwardly and essentially, it is never because it has lived too much but too little under the Word of Scripture. But the Church has become increasingly strong and self-conscious and bold, and produced heroes and geniuses and benefactors, and been able to establish comfort and hope for all people, not only within but without its walls, and gained genuine respect for itself, even in the world, when it has had a humble mind, and been prepared to live not above or alongside but under the Word. The existence in all ages of a Church which is really alive is therefore a concrete answer to the objection that an acknowledgement of the priority of the Bible in the Church will be detrimental to the living God and a living faith. The very opposite is the truth. Death usually reigns in the Church when it is thought that this acknowledgement should not be made.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 2.502)

Comment » | Biblical Authority

Second Sunday after Easter

May 8th, 2011 — 5:35am

“Almighty God, which hast given thy holy son to be unto us, both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of Godly life; Give us the grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life.”

Comment » | Grace and Life

How can I help loving?

May 3rd, 2011 — 4:09pm

“The fact that I myself know the reality of a help in need cannot divide me from the man who does not seem to know it, who seems only to know his need, and even that not properly. If I know my own need and see another in the same need, that is enough to drive and bind and engage me to him. Because I know the help of God, I shall also know that the need in which God helps is the judgment of God. And under the judgment of God I shall not be separated from the other, but see myself bound to him, even if I do not know whether he knows with me the help of God. How can I help loving him when I see him placed with me under the judgment of God?” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 2.436)

Comment » | Life Together

A footnote

May 3rd, 2011 — 11:32am

In my sermon this past Sunday, I referenced a story about the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the exact provenance of which I had not bothered to research. A dear friend (who shall remain nameless lest I embarrass him) subsequently sent me a link to Benjamin B. Warfield’s account of the story. Those who heard the sermon will note that I got a few details wrong, but the substance is there. Here’s the pertinent paragraph from Warfield:

“What is ‘the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism’? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ – ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!’ ‘Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,’ was the rejoinder.”

Comment » | The Way of All the Earth

Why we need penitential prayers

May 1st, 2011 — 4:10pm

When I participate in liturgical confessions of sin, I sometimes can’t help feeling that we’re all being rather insincere. With great solemnity we “bewail” how sinful and unworthy we are; the rhetoric of our self-deprecation is forceful. But then we rattle on to the next part of the liturgy; no one thinks of spending the rest of the day in mourning. And we never speak of ourselves this way in everyday life. Something doesn’t add up. Do we really think we’re as bad as the confession made us sound?

I don’t think I’ve read a better description of why we need such penitential prayers than this from C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves:

“All those expressions of unworthiness which Christian practice puts into the believer’s mouth seem to the outer world like the degraded and insincere grovellings of a sycophant before a tyrant, or at best a façon de parler like the self-depreciation of a Chinese gentlemen when he calls himself ‘this course and illiterate person.’ In reality, however, they express the continually renewed, because continually necessary, attempt to negate that misconception of ourselves and of our relation to God which nature, even while we pray, is always recommending to us. No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically loveable. The Pagans obeyed this impulse unabashed; a good man was ‘dear to the gods’ because he was good. We, being better taught, resort to subterfuge. Far be it from us to think that we have virtues for which God could love us. But then, how magnificently we have repented! As Bunyan says, describing his first and illusory conversion, ‘I thought there was no man in England that pleased God better than I.’ Beaten out of this, we next offer our own humility to God’s admiration. Surely He’ll like that? Or if not that, our clear-sighted and humble recognition that we still lack humility. Thus, depth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realise for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little – however little – native luminosity? Surely we can’t be quite creatures?”

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

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