Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thought for the day

Who can wonder that the world is incredulous as to the reality of religion? If they do not look for themselves into the scriptures, and there learn what religion is, if they are governed by the rules of evidence from what they see in the lives of professing Christians, they ought to be incredulous. They ought to infer, so far as this evidence goes, that professors of religion do not themselves believe in it. It is the fact. I doubt, myself, whether the great mass of professors believe the Bible.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Indeed. Romans 2:24 comes to mind: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (TNIV)...
</idle musing>

He's still at it

Nevertheless, by underlining that there are exceptional creatures in the sky (the sun and moon) and the sea (Leviathan and Rahab) and by simultaneously referring to them in deliberately oblique terms, the author is depotentizing them all to a large degree. Furthermore, the preexilic tradition of Canaanite-Israelite astral religion is so strong that it is hard to dismiss the idea that the author is making the point that, though the starry hosts are members of God’s court and are sovereign agents, they are nonetheless created beings like the birds and fish. Moreover, within Canaanite-Israelite astral religion, Yahweh was occasionally, it seems, identified with the sun, and the author is making it perfectly clear that no celestial agent is to be equated with God.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 319

Truncated

John the Baptist says that the difference between the Messiah and himself is that he baptizes with water while the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). What would the average Christian say was the purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world? Almost certainly they would not say what John said. We would be much more likely to say that he came to die for our sins. To be sure, he did come for that purpose. The Gospel of John also has John the Baptist saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). But Jesus’ atoning death was an intermediate goal, not the ultimate one.— Called to be Holy, page 90

<idle musing>
The atonement only gospel strikes again! We're selling God short when we reduce the gospel to anything less than the total transformation and remaking of our entire life. Yet we do it all the time...may we rediscover the richness of what God wants to do in our lives—and through our transformed and renewed lives!
</idle musing>

Monday, April 14, 2014

A stumbling block

What do sinners think, when they see professing Christians acting with them in their political measures, which they themselves know to be dishonest and corrupt? They say, "We understand what we are about, we are after office, we are determined to carry our party into power, we are pursuing our own interest; but these Christians profess to live for another and a higher end, and yet here they come, and join with us, as eager for the loaves and fishes as the rest of us." What greater stumbling-block can they have?

<idle musing>
Haven't learned much in 150+ years, have we...
</idle musing>

We're missing the point

But this [the creation of the sun and moon in Genesis 1] is not simply about counting the days and nights; the invention of the sun and moon neither creates nor allows for the passage of time, per se. After all, several days have already passed and been counted without them. Clearly, mere chronological tallying is not the issue here. What is created is the actual calendrical framework that gives the passage of time significance and allows one to separate between sacred and nonsacred times. Indeed, the term used to refer to the light in the sky, ‏מְּאֹרֹת, is used in the Pentateuch to refer exclusively to the lamps in the sanctuary.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 313-314

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? And this whole argument of 6 days totally misses the point, doesn't it? We're looking at the weeds in the garden and missing the flowers that are there...
</idle musing>

So what's the difference, then?

To suggest, as too many do today, that the New Covenant differs from the Old by offering forgiveness in place of demanding obedience is a sad travesty. The New Covenant demands obedience every bit as strongly as does the Old one...So what is the difference between the two covenants? The difference is precisely where Jeremiah and Ezekiel place it. The Old Covenant was external. It stood over against the worshipper and, as such, it showed him or her in no uncertain terms who God was, and who he or she was...The New Covenant differs from the Old in this one respect. It is internal. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, the temple of our heart and spirit can be cleansed from the sins of the past and the Spirit can take up residence within us. Now God’s will can function from within us; now his nature can flow out of us. Now what was once an unattainable goal becomes a living reality. — Called to be Holy, pages 86-87

<idle musing>
Indeed! The difference is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." With Christ in us, there is no command of God we are unable to obey—but only through the power of the indwelling Christ via the Holy Spirit. That's quite a promise, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The centrality of the cross

In the current field of Pauline studies, it is often difficult to find a sane voice when discussing Paul's views on women. Either Paul is the greatest villain that women have ever encountered, or he is seen as a far-seeing champion of women's rights. I was reading recently (in conjunction with an editing job) and came across the following:
When trying to navigate the seeming contradiction between the hierarchical and egalitarian streams in Paul’s thought, it is important to remember that Paul views power, like everything else, through the lens of the cross. The cross is power, but it is power expressed through weakness, through humility, and through love. The power of the cross is power exerted for the benefit of others, not the benefit of oneself.—JenniferHouston McNeel, Paul as Infant and Nursing Mother: Metaphor, Rhetoric, and Identity in 1 Thessalonians 2:5–8 (dissertation)
<idle musing>
Indeed! And it is not just in matters of Paul's view of women. Paul sees everything through the eyes of the cross.
Would that we did too! Make it so, Lord Jesus!
</idle musing>

Friday, April 11, 2014

Who or whom?

I'm in the midst of editing a book—as usual!—and ran into a nice little phrase that made me stop and actually mentally diagram the sentence. It contains a few things that make you stop to think. Here's the phrase:
“...remind them of who they are…”
What's the problem, you ask? Shouldn't it just be "whom"? After all, it's the object of the preposition "of," right?

Well, yes and no. The whole phrase "who they are" is the object of the preposition "of" not just "who."

OK, you say, but it still should be "whom" because it is the object of "are," right?

Nope. "Are" is a copulative (linking) verb and takes a subjective case predicate (for those of you with Greek or Latin, a predicate nominative). So, it should be "who" as the subjective complement of "are."

Let's create a different clause with the same construction.

It comes down the to the problem of who is Santa Claus.
So you see, Virginia, there really can be an objective Santa Clause...

I know, it's terrible...

A different view on Genesis 1

The Sabbath Calendar, I have argued, is a deliberate rejection of the historical luni-solar calendar of the Canaanite-Israelite traditions and, perhaps more importantly, a rejection of the Standard Mesopotamian Calendar. In this light, Genesis 1 provides a narrative charter, a mythic justification for a novel calendar based not solely on the lunar cycle but on septenary cycles that the author maintains are linked to observable solar, lunar, and astral phenomena.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 314

The cure

A second important feature of the phenomena surrounding Saul’s spirit-filling is his receiving of “a new heart...” Here we have a clear connection between Spirit-filling and moral renovation. We also have the connection between the “heart” and the Spirit. It is the Spirit who gives us the ability to live wholly for God, an ability that we lack otherwise. Our hearts are terribly divided, and the imagination by which our thoughts (“the thoughts of our hearts”) are shaped is deeply and utterly corrupted. God expects us to share his character; that is his goal for us. Yet, as the Hebrew people learned to their dismay, there is that in us which seems to prevent us from reaching that goal, sincere though our efforts may be. What is to be done? Here it is: the Spirit of God must fill us, communicating the character and will of God to us, and giving us a heart which belong wholly to God. — Called to be Holy, page 74

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Because the politics of the world are perfectly dishonest. Who does not know this? Who does not know that it is the proposed policy of every party to cover up the defects of their own candidate, and the good qualities of the opposing candidate? And is not this dishonest? Every party holds up its candidate as a piece of perfection, and then aims to ride him into office by any means, fair or foul. No man can be an honest man, that is committed to a party, to go with them, let them do what they may. And can a Christian do it, and keep a conscience void of offense?—Charles Finney

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The aftermath

I ran across this earlier today on the implications of the Mozilla decision. Definitely worth the read, but here's a key excerpt:
In every other respect we as humans act as individual organisms except when it comes to intercourse between men and women — then we work together as one flesh. Coordination toward that end — even when procreation is not achieved — makes the unity here. This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this.
<idle musing>
Read the whole thing. Sure, I don't agree with their political viewpoint, but that doesn't mean they aren't speaking the truth here. Bonhoeffer, in his Ethics goes into quite a bit of detail about the danger of not standing against the social norms. George Orwell, in 1984 also explores it a bit. So does the book Fahrenheit 451, for that matter. Now that I think about it, not conforming for the sake of conforming, daring to stand up—without demonizing the other views—is a major theme in many books, to say nothing of the Bible. The biggest difference between the Bible and other literature (aside from its status of authority!) is the Bible says the response should be love, prayer, compassion, and turning the other cheek...something we're not terribly good at, are we?
</idle musing>

But I thought they were on my side...

[T]he stars are powerful agents in and of themselves who, when called for, are willing to do Yahweh’s martial bidding. They are active, conscious combatants in the conflict [in Judges 5] against the enemies of Yahweh’s people. Although the stars are members of Yahweh’s court, the fact that the stars are noted to fight “from their courses,” םָתוֹלִסְמִּמ, indicates that they have specific positions, even portions (dare I say, “inheritances”?) in the sky that belong, on some level, to them. This also adds to the active portrait that the author is painting. Thus, the kings of Canaan have their coalition composed of kings of various cities, who fight willingly alongside each other (v. 19). Yahweh does as well, and comprises both human tribes and cosmic forces (v. 20). Since the assumption is that the stars serve as the gods of the nations (the very nations against which they are fighting), the fact that they are nevertheless cast as Yahweh’s dutiful vassals serves the Deuteronomistic agenda of the redactor quite well, which is that Yahweh’s sovereignty demands unquestioning loyalty.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 303

<idle musing>
I know—the Hebrew is backwards, but I'm too lazy to fix it...don't let that distract you from what he is saying here...The very gods that the nations think they are calling on to help them are actually bound to work against them. That's a good dose of solid theology—and a radical idea...
</idle musing>

Don't remove it!

Between the request for an established spirit and a willing, or free, spirit is the plea that God should not take his holy spirit from David, In other words, the key to the new spirit that David is asking for is the presence of God’s Spirit. It seems probably that this request grows out of the memory of Saul, a memory that must have gained a horrifying power at this time in David’s life. For once Saul had been dramatically filled with God’s Spirit, as David had been after him. But then through disobedience and rebellion, Saul had lost that intimate presence, and the vacuum had been filled with an altogether different spirit. — Called to be Holy, page 70

Ordained by God?

The first reason why you are not to be conformed to this world in business, is that the principle of the world is that of supreme selfishness. This is true universally, in the pursuit of business. The whole course of business in the world is governed and regulated by the maxims of supreme and unmixed selfishness. It is regulated without the least regard to the commands of God, or the glory of God, or the welfare of their fellow men. The maxims of business generally current among business men, and the habits and usages of business men, are all based upon supreme selfishness. Who does not know, that in making bargains, the business men of the world consult their own interest, and seek their own benefit, and not the benefit of those they deal with?

<idle musing>
Yet I have heard people argue that capitalism in the God-ordained system of business! Not sure which god they are speaking of, but it certainly isn't the God of the Bible! Finney's insights here are just as relevant—and just as ignored!—today as they were 175 years ago...we are still just as badly in need of redemption and revival now as we were then.

Even so, come Lord Jesus! Come and bring revival to this land and especially to your church!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

It makes sense

Speaking of the sun standing still in Joshua, Cooley says
This elevated display of the dead and their descent into the ground—that is, the cave—is not coincidental, nor is the timing of the event at sunset simply the fulfillment of the statute in Deut 21:22. Just as the kings’ corpses were suspended above the land, motionless on poles, so the sun and moon, divested of their sovereignty, stood suspended in the sky above the land. And, just as the kings were buried and their reigns in the land were ended, so also the sun (and moon?) set, descended into the earth, and its reign in the land was ended.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 296
<idle musing>
I've never even pretended to understand what to do with the sun standing still in Joshua, but this interpretation makes sense...
</idle musing>

But it looks good

So we have this interesting juxtaposition; an Asa whose commitment to God was absolute even though his obedience fell short of all that it might have been, and an Amaziah whose performance was as upright as anyone could expect, even God, but who never finally yielded the control center of himself to God. What does such a juxtaposition say about God’s will and the possibilities for human life? Surely it says that what God wants above all—and what it is possible for us humans to give—is a life which is totally given over to him. This is the heart of the covenant. This is a life that exists for one purpose: the service and glory of God. An inescapable component of such a perfect heart is obedience. It could not be otherwise. But God does not want obedience. He wants obedience which is the natural outflow of a heart totally given over to him. If that obedience is not all that it might be in other circumstances, or in other persons, he is willing to work with that fact. What he does not want is obedience which is offered in place of a perfect heart. Such obedience then becomes a means of attempted self-justification, a fruitless enterprise. — Called to be Holy, pages 60-61

<idle musing>
And that, my friends, is the heart of Christian holiness. It all flows from a heart that is yielded to God. The performance will follow if the heart and will are in the right spot. Holiness of heart, not performance-based, rule-bound holiness. As Oswalt says, "Such obedience then becomes a means of attempted self-justification, a fruitless enterprise." Always has been, always will be.
<idle musing>

Higher authority

You see what it is to be a Christian. It is to be governed by the authority of God in all things, and not by public sentiment, to live not by hopes and fears, but by supreme consecration of yourself unto God. You see that if you mean to be religious, you must count the cost. I will not flatter you. I will never try to coax you to become religious, by keeping back the truth. If you mean to be Christians, you must give yourselves wholly up to Christ. You cannot float along to heaven on the waves of public sentiment. I will not deceive you on this point.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
If only we were as honest today...no pleading, begging, cajoling to get people to "give their heart to Jesus" in that statement. Just the plain, bare truth that it will cost you something—nay, everything!—should you decide to follow Jesus. Kind of reminds you of the rich young ruler in the gospels, doesn't it? He ended up walking away, but at least he didn't have a deluded sense that he was following Jesus.

Perhaps the first step in becoming a Christian is to realize that you aren't one yet...at least not if anything other than Jesus is at the center of your life, that is.

Too radical an idea? Perhaps, but you can't say it isn't a biblical one!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Thought for the day

If you allow yourselves in any sins secretly, when you can get along without having any human being know it, know that God sees it, and that He has already written down your name, HYPOCRITE. You are more afraid of disgrace in the eye of mortals, than of disgrace in the eye of God.—Charles Finney

Stars? Divine?

I maintain that the stars’ role as active agents is, in a certain sense, linked to a divine nature, even if the biblical authors often deny them this status outright. Put another way, agents that would have been considered divine in the broader ancient Near East are frequently labeled otherwise by the biblical authors. Despite the biblical authors’ theologically oriented reluctance, I understand biblical narratives that include astral features as active agents as a genuine literary reflex of Canaanite-Israelite astral religion, even if this reflex was heavily qualified by the monotheizing penchants of the biblical authors.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 291

<idle musing>
I've always been intrigued by C.S. Lewis's view of stars as expressed in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He puts words in the mouth of a recovering star in Narnia, saying something to the effect that even in our world, stars are far more than they appear to be. I would tend to agree—he develops this a bit more in Perelandra in a delightful exposition on sexless sexuality.
</idle musing>

Are methods neutral?

Whenever the world’s methods are used for God’s work, we must be doubly careful that those methods are sanctified by the fire of God. Perhaps Solomon thought his relationship with God was so secure that nothing could touch it. To his sorrow, he learned this is never the case. Our will, our decisions, our affections are never static. A heart that is perfect toward God does indeed have a new set of inclinations, inclinations to obey rather than to disobey, but unless those inclinations are carefully nourished from day to day, they will wither and die, like Solomon’s did.— Called to be Holy, page 57

<idle musing>
Indeed. I wonder how many of the methods being employed on in the cause of "God's work" have been "sanctified by the fire of God." I fear too few have been...
</idle musing>