Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2000 Years of Christ's Power, Part One

I read a lot of church history. I've always loved history and especially church history. I love reading about the people involved and the theological disputes.

The latter has always been a problem in introductory overviews, though. The theological disputes either get ignored or given a brief and unsatisfactory paragraph or two. Sure, the Arian controversy will get more than that. But to really understand the issues, you have to seek out a heavily footnoted tomb—oops, I meant tome (or did I?). And almost invariably you come away either, a. bored nearly to death, or b. even more confused than when you started.

So, when I was told of an introductory level text that paid attention to theological issues as well as historical ones, I couldn't resist. I requested a copy of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part 1: The Age of the Early Church Fathers. I have to confess that I wasn't too hopeful; I've been disappointed too often by church history books that promise far more than they can deliver. But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is the text readable, but it takes on the theological issues in more than a cursory manner, yet still manages to keep them understandable. A first in my experience.

He examines the Arian controversy and gives the background on why it never found a foothold in the west (Tertullian's strong Trinitarian writings are credited).

Needham doesn't limit himself to the church in the west, either. He includes not just the Orthodox East, but also the Syrian East. And he doesn't slight Africa, either. He even includes selected readings from some of the major actors in the story. Again, something that is usually missing from an introductory text. When I took church history in seminary, we were given a reading list for each time period and told to read 1-2 items from each time period; the textbook didn't have any readings in it. That's fine for a seminarian who has access to a good library, but not so good for the average person. Including the selection of readings is a major bonus.

In short, not only do I wholeheartedly recommend this book, but I also am going to read the remaining books in the series: The Middle Ages and Renaissance and Reformation. There is also a fourth volume that is supposed to be coming out next spring. Once it is published, I'll definitely be reading it as well.

I hope there's more than that to the incarnation

The plumb-line may show me that the wall in my garden is crooked, but it will not put it straight, and had Jesus Christ come into this world simply to demonstrate a sinless life, and leave us with a matchless example, He would have left us to wallow in the squalor of our own inadequacy; the “good news” of the Gospel would have been a message of despair—to mock us, without being able to mend us!—The Mystery of Godliness, page 130

<idle musing>
And yet, that seems to be the "gospel" that some preach. If Jesus doesn't deliver us from sin and sinning, but just from the final consequences of it, what kind of gospel is that?

Is satan stronger than God?

But that seems to be the message that I hear. Are we doomed to endless cycles of sin and repent with no hope for deliverance until death?

If that is the case, then kill me now! I came to Jesus to be delivered from all that junk! It was the hope of a life free from sin that brought me to him in the first place. Now you want to tell me that that was a false hope? That the promises of scripture are bogus?

Sorry. Not buying it! I'll stand on the promise of deliverance.
</idle musing>

Road dust

Thus, salt, if not treated properly or put to good use, will become insipid—”lose its saltiness”—and become good for nothing, or what John Stott calls “road dust.”— Sermon on the Mount, page 57

<idle musing>
I like that metaphor, road dust. Growing up and living in the north, you see a lot of that. The roads in the winter are usually sprinkled with a mixture of rock salt and sand (don't get me started on the ethics of that!). Over the course of the winter, the sand breaks the rock salt into tiny little particles. By the end of the winter, its just fine dust that the wind blows hither and yon. But there is enough sand in it that it can't be used as salt. Basically worthless...road dust.
</idle musing>

The importance of theology

What you do and how you live are absolutely vital. Without action and fruit, all the theology in the world has little meaning. But theology is till important—what you believe absolutely determines how you act. So while good theology at its best can lead us to live godly lives, bad theology always points us in the wrong direction.—Forgotten God, page 64

The last resort

Your tardiness in turning to prayer is the greatest obstacle to heavenly consolation, for before you pray earnestly to Me you first seek many comforts and take pleasure in outward things. Thus, all things are of little profit to you until you realize that I am the one Who saves those who trust in Me, and that outside of Me there is no worthwhile help, or any useful counsel or lasting remedy.—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

<idle musing>
Why is it that God is always the last resort? We struggle and strain, trying our hardest to make things work. We puff and push, but still things don't work out the way we planned. We call in experts, consult 12-step programs, self-help books, management gurus, and still it doesn't work.

Finally, in despair, we turn to God. And then, if things work out the way we want, we take the credit!

How warped is that?!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Don't sell God short

As the first requirement for man’s redemption—a Sinless Sacrifice—the Lord Jesus gave Himself upon the cross and “suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18) and “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), but it is essential that you should realize that His cross was the means to an end; for to confuse the means for the end is to rob the Lord Jesus of that for which He came.

He came that you might have life! His life—imparted to you by the renewing of the Holy Spirit on the grounds of redemption, to re-inhabit your spirit, to re-conquer your soul…—The Mystery of Godliness, page 113

<idle musing>
A good Advent reminder! The Gospel is much more than death on a cross and heaven by and by! It is about victory over sin, self, and the world; it is about the fulness of the Holy Spirit; it is about transformation; it is about conformity to the character of Jesus (theosis).
</idle musing>

The upshot of it all

Jesus ends the Sermon by calling people to do what he has taught. Some soften his words: “He said, ‘Do this,’ but he didn’t mean we have to obey his words.” Others see a different motive: “Jesus’ aim is to drive us to our knees, not make us obey his words.” These common approaches fail the words of Jesus because in the Sermon Jesus calls his followers to do what he teaches. Those who don’t do what he says, in fact, are condemned as foolish. The entire Sermon the Mount, which Augustine said was the “perfect standard of the Christian life,” then drives home one haunting question: Will you follow me?— Sermon on the Mount, pages 20-21 (emphasis original)

Who's in charge?

When it comes down to it, many of us do not really want to be led by the Holy Spirit. Or, more fundamentally, many of us don’t want to be led by anyone other than ourselves.—Forgotten God, page 50

<idle musing>
A very scary thought, but I fear it is true...
</idle musing>


MY CHILD, do not be curious. Do not trouble yourself with idle cares. What matters this or that to you? Follow Me. What is it to you if a man is such and such, if another does or says this or that? You will not have to answer for others, but you will have to give an account of yourself. Why, then, do you meddle in their affairs?

Behold, I know all men. I see everything that is done under the sun, and I know how matters stand with each—what is in his mind and what is in his heart and the end to which his intention is directed. Commit all things to Me, therefore, and keep yourself in good peace. Let him who is disturbed be as restless as he will. Whatever he has said or done will fall upon himself, for he cannot deceive Me.— Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Monday, December 15, 2014

The significance of the incarnation

To insist that Jesus Christ came into this world by natural birth and lived a sinless life, is to repudiate the Fall of man! It means that what was possible to Him as a natural Man, must be possible to you and to me as natural men, so that if we are not what He was, it is only because we do not try hard enough! If this were true, the message of the Gospel would simply be an exhortation to greater effort—an attempt to realize the inherent adequacy that is self-existent within every human being&mdashincluding Christ! A message of spiritual regeneration would become patently superfluous, and the Fall of man a myth, for by nature man would have what it takes!—The Mystery of Godliness, page 109

<idle musing>
An appropriate Advent meditation, don't you think? The incarnation is at the heart of the gospel. If it weren't a supernatural event, then we would still be lost in our sins...
</idle musing>

But it makes no sense

Only in association with Jesus does the Sermon make sense. Jesus does not offer abstract principles or simply his version of the Torah for a new society. Instead, he offers himself to his disciples, or, put differently, he summons them to himself and in participation with Jesus and his vision the disciples are transformed into the fullness of a kingdom moral vision.— Sermon on the Mount, page 14

<idle musing>
Amen and amen! Far too often I've heard the Sermon on the Mount brushed aside as impractical and idealistic. Scot catches the heart of it right here. It's all about following Jesus.
</idle musing>

Is there a difference?

Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the Church. Christians talk about being born again and say that they were dead but now have come to life We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?—Forgotten God, page 33

<idle musing>
My "life verse" is actually a negative one: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24 TNIV) My life goal is to make that untrue. And not just in outward actions, but in a genuine Spirit-transformed inner attitude. Heart holiness, if you will.
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

Enlighten me, good Jesus, with the brightness of internal light, and take away all darkness from the habitation of my heart. Restrain my wandering thoughts and suppress the temptations which attack me so violently. Fight strongly for me, and vanquish these evil beasts—the alluring desires of the flesh—so that peace may come through Your power and the fullness of Your praise resound in the holy courts, which is a pure conscience. Command the winds and the tempests; say to the sea: “Be still,” and to the north wind, “Do not blow,” and there will be a great calm.—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Those pesky adverbs

As I will be arguing in a following section (see 2.5), temporal adverbials function as parallel structures to tense markers. They make use of all the parameters of tense, and introduce certain additional parameters as well, and further, they are able to provide greater detail in the case of all these parameters.. However, it is necessary to describe the system of tense independently of these adverbials because the latter are only optional elements that may be used to modify tense, if necessary; they do not form an essential part of the tense system.—The Prominence of Tense, Aspect and Mood, page 30

<idle musing>
A very interesting book. Lots of stuff is falling into place as I read this. Maybe someday I'll even understand it : )
</idle musing>

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Biblical Philologist

Saw this today. Hilarious!

Thought for the day

It is your capacity to receive God, and to enjoy God, and to be enjoyed by God which makes you man as opposed to mere animal, and it is only God in you that enables you to function as He intended you as man to function.—The Mystery of Godliness, pages 74-75

The formula

Even our church growth can happen without Him. Let’s be honest: If you combine a charismatic speaker, a talented worship band, and some hip, creative events, people will attend your church.—Forgotten God, page 31

<idle musing>
If numbers is what you measure, then it's a success. But if transformed lives are what counts...well, let's just say you could do better.
</idle musing>

What does this mean?

Then bring Aaron and his sons to the meeting tent’s entrance and wash them with water. Dress Aaron in the holy clothes. Anoint him and make him holy so that he may serve me as priest. Then bring his sons and dress them in tunics. Anoint them like you anointed their father so that they may serve me as priests. Their anointing is to the priesthood for all time in every generation. Moses did everything exactly as the Lord had commanded him. (‭Exodus‬ ‭40‬:‭12-16‬ CEB)

12‏ וְהִקְרַבְתָּ אֶת־אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת־בָּנָיו אֶל־פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְרָחַצְתָּ אֹתָם בַּמָּיִם׃
‎13‏ וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ אֶת־אַהֲרֹן אֵת בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתוֹ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ אֹתוֹ וְכִהֵן לִי׃ ‎
14‏ וְאֶת־בָּנָיו תַּקְרִיב וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ אֹתָם כֻּתֳּנֹת׃ ‎
15‏ וּמָשַׁחְתָּ אֹתָם כַּאֲשֶׁר מָשַׁחְתָּ אֶת־אֲבִיהֶם וְכִהֲנוּ לִי וְהָיְתָה לִהְיֹת לָהֶם מָשְׁחָתָם לִכְהֻנַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתָם׃
‎16‏ וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֹתוֹ כֵּן עָשָׂה׃

<idle musing>
See the difference there? Aaron is in "holy clothes" and his anointing makes him holy. The sons are wearing tunics and anointed "like their father" but they aren't made holy. What's going on here?

The Vulgate is very terse here:
adplicabisque Aaron et filios eius ad fores tabernaculi testimonii et lotos aqua indues sanctis vestibus ut ministrent mihi et unctio eorum in sacerdotium proficiat sempiternum fecitque Moses omnia quae praeceperat Dominus.

No distinction between the sons and the father... The Septuagint, on the other hand, makes an even bigger distinction than the Hebrew:
καὶ προσάξεις Ααρων καὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὰς θύρας τῆς σκηνῆς τοῦ μαρτυρίου καὶ λούσεις αὐτοὺς ὕδατι καὶ ἐνδύσεις Ααρων τὰς στολὰς τὰς ἁγίας καὶ χρίσεις αὐτὸν καὶ ἁγιάσεις αὐτόν, καὶ ἱερατεύσει μοι· καὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτοῦ προσάξεις καὶ ἐνδύσεις αὐτοὺς χιτῶνας καὶ ἀλείψεις αὐτούς, ὃν τρόπον ἤλειψας τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν, καὶ ἱερατεύσουσίν μοι· καὶ ἔσται ὥστε εἶναι αὐτοῖς χρῖσμα ἱερατείας εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα εἰς τὰς γενεὰς αὐτῶν. καὶ ἐποίησεν Μωυσῆς πάντα, ὅσα ἐνετείλατο αὐτῷ κύριος, οὕτως ἐποίησεν.

They use a different verb for the anointing of the sons versus the anointing of Aaron: χρίω versus ἀλείφω. Not sure how much to make of that—the Hebrew uses the same word, משׁח, the standard word for anointing.

Still mulling all this over in my mind. Is it significant that Aaron's garments are described as holy and the sons' are just tunics? Do the "clothes make the man" so to speak?

Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's getting harder

It's getting harder and harder for those who would have us believe that to follow the U.S. is to follow Christ. I believe God is at work, waking his church to the adultery that is practiced by thinking it is possible...

I already pointed to a good post by Brian Zahnd about Christians and torture. Here's one that ties very nicely with my views on the pledge of allegiance.

Personally, I can think of no more of a compelling reason to close the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance: we can pledge our allegiance to Jesus and his way of enemy love (which he said was a requirement to become God’s children), or we can pledge our allegiance to the empire who tortures and kills its enemies (the opposite of what Christ tells us to do, thus being an “anti-Christ” nation). But, I don’t see how one could do both, as they are complete opposites. As much as I hate lines, I don’t see how this isn’t one: we can follow Jesus, or follow America, but we cannot follow both Jesus and America at the same time as they are busy doing opposite things. (all emphasis original)
<idle musing>
Read the whole thing. And then ask yourself which kingdom has your loyalties. For which kingdom are you willing to die? For which kingdom will you expend your financial, creative, and physical resources?

And lest you think I am picking on the past administration's use of torture, be aware that the present administration has not shutdown Guantanamo Bay, despite promises to do so. The present administration also continues to use drone warfare—indeed has increased their use.

And also understand that I am not talking about what makes good sense to a non-Christian. I am saying that as a Christian, we are called to stand up to this abuse of power. To stand for shalom, which doesn't mean peace as lack of war; it means peace as in healing and wholeness. Torture doesn't heal! Drone warfare doesn't make whole! How can a Christian endorse these things and not wonder where their loyalty really lies? By their fruit, says Jesus...

What does my fruit look like to the King of kings? That is the question I have been asking myself the last few days. Am I complicit in this because I haven't been speaking up more? Will this unrest in my soul lead to a deeper humility in my walk with Jesus? or will I "get over it" in a few days and resume business as usual? I pray the former and not the latter!
</idle musing>

Total dependence

[For Christ t]o have acted other than in dependence upon the Father would have violated the perfection of His own humanity. That is why Satan’s attacks upon the Son were designed to trick Him, somehow, into acting on His own initiative; but though tempted again and again, and in all points like as we are, He was without sin. He never once acted in other than dependence on the Father.—The Mystery of Godliness, page 57

No need

For some reason, we don’t think we need the Holy Spirit. We don’t expect the Holy Spirit to act. Or if we do, our expectations are often misguided or self-serving. Given our talent set, experience, and education, many of us are fairly capable of living rather successfully (according to the world’s standards) without any strength from the Holy Spirit.—Forgotten God, page 31

<idle musing>
Or, to put it another way, we're practical atheists. We don't need or—if we're totally honest with ourselves—want God. He might mess up our lives!

What a warped outlook! We make a mess of creation; we torture our fellow humans in the name of safety; we lie, cheat, and steal; we look down on the poor and the immigrant. And we have the gall to say that we are a "chosen nation"! A beacon of light for the world!

Hubris. Which, at least in Greek tragedy, always leads to a tragic ending. All the more tragic in that the audience knows whats coming but the main character is blind to it... Sounds a lot like what's going on in the U.S. right now, doesn't it?

The only hope is repentance and reliance on the inner transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring about.
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

Come, O come, for without You there will be no happy day or hour, because You are my happiness and without You my table is empty. I am wretched, as it were imprisoned and weighted down with fetters, until You fill me with the light of Your presence, restore me to liberty, and show me a friendly countenance. Let others seek instead of You whatever they will, but nothing pleases me or will please me but You, my God, my Hope, my everlasting Salvation. I will not be silent, I will not cease praying until Your grace returns to me and You speak inwardly to me, saying: “Behold, I am here. Lo, I have come to you because you have called Me. Your tears and the desire of your soul, your humility and contrition of heart have inclined Me and brought Me to you.”—Thomas à Kempis

More books!

I received two more recent books from Eisenbrauns last week but forgot to mention them (thanks, Jim!).

Feasting in the Archaeology and Texts of the Bible and the Ancient Near East

Feasting in the Archaeology and Texts of the Bible and the Ancient Near East

Edited by Peter Altmann and Janling Fu
Eisenbrauns, 2014
xii + 303 pp., English
ISBN: 9781575063232
List Price: $47.50
Your Price: $42.75

The Syntax of Volitives in Biblical Hebrew and Amarna Canaanite Prose

The Syntax of Volitives in Biblical Hebrew and Amarna Canaanite Prose
Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic - LSAWS 9
by Hélène Dallaire
Eisenbrauns, 2014
xii + 250 pages, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575063072
List Price: $49.50
Your Price: $44.55

I'm looking forward to reading them. You will probably be reading excerpts from both of them sometime this winter : )

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Brian Zahnd sums up my feelings very nicely:
You cannot be a Christian and support torture. I want to be utterly explicit on this point. There is no possibility of compromise. The support of torture is off the table for a Christian. I suppose you can be some version of a “patriot” and support the use of torture, but you cannot be any version of a Christian and support torture. So choose one: A torture-endorsing patriot or a Jesus-following Christian. But don’t lie to yourself that you can be both. You cannot.
Read the whole post and think deeply about your allegiances...

Thought for a Wednesday

By independence (or the absence of faith), you eliminate God, and substitute yourself, to become both cause and effect—the source of your own “godliness,” but only God has the right to be the source of His own godliness, so that however unwittingly you are acting as your own God!

You will still believe or pretend that you are worshiping God; but as the object of your imitation, even Christ Himself may only be an excuse for worshiping your own ability to imitate—an ability vested in yourself, and this is the basis of all self-righteousness!—The Mystery of Godliness, pages 54-55

Just a little bit

Perhaps when a person says, “I’d just like a little God, thank you very much,” she or he is really saying, “I’d rather not give the parts of my life that I really care about over to God, so I’ll just hold on to this, that, oh, and that, too…”

It doesn’t work that way. When I read Scripture, I see the truth and necessity of a life wholly surrendered to and dependent upon the Holy Spirit.—Forgotten God, page 21

<idle musing>
Sad isn't it? Here's the creator of the universe, who has never stopped wooing us, trying to show us that he is all love. And we say, "Thank you very much, but I'd rather wallow in my pigsty."
</idle musing>

It is enough

[W]hatever You give me besides Yourself, whatever You reveal to me concerning Yourself, and whatever You promise, is too small and insufficient when I do not see and fully enjoy You alone. For my heart cannot rest or be fully content until, rising above all gifts and every created thing, it rests in You.—Thomas à Kempis