Monday, July 28, 2008

Radio Worldview Takes on "The Shack"

A book called The Shack has been making waves in both Christian and mainstream circles. Written by William P. Young, The Shack has been lauded by some as "the next Pilgrim's Progress." I have not read The Shack, but half of the blogs in my RSS reader seem to have reviewed it, and it has subsequently become a source of contention among Christians. In latest podcast from Radio Worldview, Bill Jack and Dell Cook begin analyzing The Shack and interacting with Young's ideas.

This is the first installment of a two-part discussion, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Economy of Grace

My friend Ben Stafford has started the blog The Economy of Grace to share thoughts and ideas on matters theological as well as economic. He is a devoted Christian and we attended the same church in college, in addition to leading a Bible study together. He is also quite knowledgeable in the area of economics and is a proponent of limited government and, thereby, a free market. Here is an excerpt from a recent post on Jonathan Edwards:

The Religious Affections
Edwards prefaces the book to state the question he is setting out to answer. “What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?” In other words, is there any way to know one if who claims to be born again truly is? And if so, what are those characteristics of his thought or actions that will tell us?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Latin and Leisure

Latin and leisure are two things that have been on my mind lately. In addition to teaching humanities this Fall at Providence, I will also be teaching Latin. When I mention this to inquiring friends and family, someone inevitably voices the obvious: "What is the benefit of learning that?" Latin is, after all, a dead language that only those of us who have resigned ourselves to near-poverty as teachers and professors dabble in, right? I also happen to be reading Josef Pieper's Leisure: A Basis for Culture and in the first part of the book he writes about the cultural mindset of work. We work so we can live, and we "not-work" for the sake of working (resting for the sake of working later). Everything is done for the sake of efficiency and utility. Such a mindset easily explains why things like Latin or philosophy are regarded as trival, at best, and a waste of time, at worst. While true leisure dictates that some things have value, regardless of whether or not you get anything back from them, there are practical benefits from learning Latin.

The most often cited benefit is vocabulary. A significant number of words in the English language are derrived directly, or indirectly (via the Romance languages) from Latin. Studying Latin vocabulary lists will teach you the root and origins of many words and phrases and make decyphering new words easier.

Latin is also tremendously helpful for learning English grammar. Despite the dissimilarities between Latin and English, the same basic parts of grammar exist in both: nouns and adjectives, active and passive verbs, and cases. While it may have been otherwise in the past, today we do not learn English grammar in a very systematic way. We learn English through use and experiece, not through consulting grammar books. Further, in many schools, the process of learning to read has been stretched out over twelve grades by the curriculum manufacturers. When a student learns Latin grammar, it is most often done so by comparision to English equvilants and translation. This is not so much true for Latin as it is of learning a second language in general. I never completely grasped the difference is use between "who" and "whom" and how both function grammatically until I began studying German in college.

Finally, the act of reading and translating Latin requires discipline and attention to detail. Unlike most modern languages which rely on a word's placement in the sentence (the subject noun comes before the verb, and the object noun comes after), word order is irrelevant in Latin. Whether a noun is the subject or direct object can be learned by looking at the word ending. For example the sentence, poeta puellam amat, means "the poet loves the girl." The ending for poeta, -a, means that it is the nominative case, or "subject." The -am ending of puellam shows that it is the accusative, or "direct object" of the sentence. Finally, the verb ending of amat, -at, is the third-person singular, present, indicative, active ending. Learning Latin to encourages you pay close attention to words and what is being said, which is a highly valuable skill in just about any profession.

Clearly, Latin is not a useless subject foisted on students for the sake of tradition. Increased vocabulary, a better understanding of grammar, and a closer attention to detail are all things that a student stands to gain from studying Latin (and Greek as well). Even up into the 18th Century, Latin was the universal language of scholars and educated men. Be he from England, Prussia or Spain, a scholar who knew Latin could interact with his peers from almost anywhere in Christendom. Even as recent as the 18th and 19th Centuries, statesmen such as Edmund Burke were modeling their English speeches and writings off of the great Latin Rhetoricians, Cicero and Augustine, whose eloquence and style is appreciated even today by those who study communication. Latin, despite being a dead language, is not without usefulness. Those who find it pointless would do well to consider what they could learn from learning Latin.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Showing Love in Matters of Conscience and Contention

Over the weekend, I finished reading through Romans in my personal devotions. Easily my favorite book in the New Testament, each time I return to it, I am impressed again by the grace of God in spite of my sinful rebellion, and grow a little more grateful for his love for one such as I who did not love him. Knowing that your salvation rests wholly outside of yourself, and that even the very breath with which you call upon the Lord for deliverance is only by his grace does more to quash pride and self-righteousness. In light of laying out man's total inability to be righteous, and God's amazing grace, the Apostle Paul sets for instruction in the last four chapters on how Christians out to live and relate to one another. I have been meditating on what he wrote in chapters fourteen and fifteen regarding matters of conscience and bearing with weaker brothers. Our liberties in Christ needs to be understood in the context of brotherly love.

In Chapter 13, Paul instructs the Romans to "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." This is after he exhorted them in Chapter 12 to "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor," and later, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." All of these verses, and others, set the context for what comes in Chapter 14:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. one person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me."
There are many matters of conscience that have become matters of contention among the people of God. Among the things mentioned by Paul here and elsewhere is the question of food. Some of the Jewish Christians still clung to the Mosaic dietary laws, and some Christians (Jews and Gentiles alike) refused to eat any meat that had been dedicated or sacrificed to idols. Peter's vision in Acts 10 and Paul's statement in Romans 14:14 make it clear that in Christ, we are free to eat anything. Paul adds that he should only eat if he has a clear conscience and goes on to say that he who eats without a clear conscience has sinned. Today, matters of contention center around issues such as alcohol and media consumption. Many Christians regard the consumption of any alcohol to be sinful, and some see no justification for seeing a movie that has any questionable content. Other Christians strongly disagree with these positions, and the result has been contention among them, often resulting in a lack of charity.

In these passages, Paul instructs us to bear with the weaker brothers, and to not exasperate him. The brother who eats unclean meats with a clean conscience in the presence of a brother who does not have the same strength of conscience only stirs up contention among the Body. Today, the brother who is able to drink alcohol with a clear conscience exasperates his brother with a weaker conscience when he flaunts his freedom. Such actions demonstrate selfishness and not love toward the weaker brother. Hence, the need for Paul's command the stronger to bear with the weaker.

Though I am convinced that I have the freedom in Christ to drink alcohol (in moderation), I never have the freedom to cause my brother to sin. When I am quick to assert my freedom in Christ to enjoy the (fermented) fruits of the field in the face of a weaker brother, I am not showing him love. If we go out for lunch and I, fully knowing his conscience is not as free as mine, order a beer with my meal, I am only stirring up offense. When I seek to assert my rights at the expense of my brother, I fail in my obligation to love him.

Of Romans 14, Calvin wrote, "For God, by making us stronger than others, does not bestow strength that we may oppress the weak; nor is it part of Christian wisdom to be above measure insolent, and to despise others. The import then of what he addresses to the more intelligent and the already confirmed, is this, --that the ampler the grace which they had received from the Lord, the more bound they were to help their neighbours." The stronger the Christian, the greater the grace he is to show to the weaker. The verse, "to whom much is given, much is required" comes to mind.

My concern is that, whatever the issue may be, we overlook the fact that our love and service to our brothers is more important that our liberties. That we have them is to the glory of God, and when we enjoy them it should be to the glory of God. However, you cannot cause your brother to sin or exasperate him to the glory of God. We have not been set free from sin and death to live for ourselves, but to life for Christ as we serve one another in love, building each other up in what is right, good, and true.

This understanding requires a change in attitude in how some of us regard our liberties. Rather than flaunting them or wearing them like a t-shirt, we should not seek to draw attention to them. Perhaps for the sake of your weaker brother, you order a coke when you go to lunch with him. Our liberties and freedoms, rightly exercised, should not interfere with our mission of mutual edification. As it is written,
"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What He Said: John Owen V

The duties that God, in an ordinary way, requires at our hands are not proportioned to what strength we have in ourselves, but to what help and relief is laid up for us in Christ; and we are to address ourselves to the greatest of performances with a settled persuasion that we have not ability for the least.
- John Owen, Of Temptation

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mr. Over-Emotional Worship Leader

I seldom put up videos, but this one was too funny to pass up. If you've ever been in a contemporary evangelical worship service, this will make you laugh.

What He Said: John Owen IV

If a castle or fort be never so strong and well fortified, yet if there be a treacherous party within, that is ready to betray it on every opportunity, there is no preserving it from the enemy. There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe temptations to do the work, as traitors to incite an enemy.
- John Owen, Of Temptation

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What He Said: John Owen III

Raise up your heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. Relief in this case from Christ is like the prophet's vision: "It is for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, yet wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (Hab. 2:3). Though it may seem somewhat long to you, while you are under your trouble and perplexity, yet it shall surely come in the appointed time of the Lord Jesus; which is the best season. If, then, you can raise up your heart to a settled expectation of relief from Jesus Christ--if your eyes are toward him "as the eyes of a servant to the hand of his master" [Ps. 123:2] when he expects to receive somewhat from him--your soul shall be satisfied, he will assuredly deliver you; he will slay the lust, and your latter end shall be peace. Only look for it at his hand; expect when and how he will do it. "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established" [Isa. 7:9].
- John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin in the Believer

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Bondsmen of the Earth

"Though dead are all the paladins
Whom glory had in ken,

Though all your thunder-sworded thanes

With proud hearts died among the Danes,

While a man remains, great war remains:

Now is a war of men.

The men that tear the furrows,

The men that fell the trees,

When all their lords be lost and dead

The bondsmen of the earth shall tread

The tyrants of the seas."

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Western Culture underwent a dramatic shift away from traditional structures of society and government toward a more egalitarian and democratic mindset. No longer were the lower classes at the mercy of the aristocrats, nor were the middle-classes beholden to the whims of a King. In America, an aristocratic class never developed, all but ensuring the development of some manner of government by popular representatives.

When Chesterton penned those lines of The Ballad of the White Horse, he was not so much speaking from the past as he was speaking to his time, beset by the barbarianism of Modernity. Christendom had no leaders, no "thunder-sworded thanes" to protect others from the dangers of Modernity. The traditional role of the aristocrat was to defend his own from harm, and in the absence of such leadership, Chesterton saw that it fell to the "bondsmen of the earth" to fight the encroaching barbarism and atheism. King Alfred calls upon these simple men to use the common skills and virtues to "tread the tyrants of the sea." Alfred gives them courage and inspires them fight. Prepared to fight and die, they rally and charge their foes, and the simple virtue of the peasant overcome the hardened warrior in the White Horse vale.

We have few generals and leaders who speak with moral authority and clear conviction. Relative to preceding generations, we are woefully undereducated and illiterate. Our abilities are few and our vision nearsighted. Yet, all is not lost. Our God is great and he uses what is weak and lowly to do mighty things. Reluctant Gideons though we may be, history has shown what even three hundred men can accomplish in the face of thousands of determined foes.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
- 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What He Said: John Owen II

When a man rights against his sin only with arguments from the issue or the punishment due unto it, this is a sign that sin has taken great possession of the will, and that in the heart there is a superfluity of naughtiness [James 1:21]. Such a man as opposes nothing to the seduction of sin and lust in his heart but fear of shame among men or hell from God, is sufficiently resolved to do the sin if there were no punishment attending it.
- John Owen, On The Mortification of Sin in the Believer