Thursday, December 22, 2005

The African Connection

Here are some thoughts on a recent article.

This week (I think it was Monday) the Wall Street Journal ran a story on its front page about Bruce Wilkenson (the author of the "Prayer of Jabez"). It chronicled his assurance that God revealed to him the plan to save Africa from poverty, AIDS, and hunger. No mention, of course, about what means God told him...he just mentioned that he kept praying his multi-million dollar prayer. The story goes through Wilkenson doing political wranglings with Swaziland's government and his absolute ignorance of their culture...his grand-sweeping reform must Oral-Roberts-style happen if Africa is to survive. In the end he fails and quits his Africa project altogether convinced that evil men have underhanded him (and, by extension, God).

One of the amazing by-products of the Protestant Reformation is that the ex cathedra authority granted to the Roman Catholic Pope has been democratized amongst the priesthood of all believers. Anyone can "hear" the voice of God and act on it. Those with lots of money and politcal clout are the visionary humanitarians that are truly altruistic: Oral Roberts and George Bush come to mind. Those who lack the blessing of grater-than-Solomon wealth are categorized as loonies and extremists: David Koresh, terrorist groups, etc. The connection between them is that their is only one authority that grants their "hearings" legitimacy: public opinion. If someone is rich and clever enough to pull a P.T. Barnum on enough people, it is amazing how crispy clear the voice of God becomes...and how much it sounds like the one who heard it.

Oliver Cromwell, that not so liked British leader of years past, said something like this: "In the bowels of Christ, consider that you may be mistaken!" (My apologies if I misquoted...spirit of his letter, not the law). Evangelicals and Reformed folk, myself included, have an awful tendency to reject the wisdom of this Puritan leader. Our interpretation (of whatever, the Bible, politics, the economy) is the truth. And we have seen fit to back up our interpretation with threats of hellfire, wars and rumors of wars, or terrorist activity. Funny that the Lord Jesus, when questioned about his authority, gave his life up to those who would take it to prove their authority!

There are many times during each day in which I wish I could hear the voice of God. To hear his word and to follow it! That is what I am after. However, when I encounter his word in his word or his world, through rightly discerning the Bible and the Creation, I cannot hear it...or, better yet, I do not want to hear it. It is too powerful, too challenging, too humiliating. I am all too ready to follow what the self-concerned say is his word--those in polished suits with real worldy power and authority (funny enough, that is exactly the way Matthew portrays Satan in the Wilderness Temptation...actually, that's not funny at all, but truly terrifying).

For the love of Christ (a slight updating on the "bowels" metaphor), Christians, please stop speaking as if you were the carrier of God's word with infallibility and inerrancy!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Writing about Nothing

The end is near...

The semester is over.

May the name of the Lord be praised.

One project left to go and my academic career will be well on its way to temporary completion.

I realize, apart from my lack of time, that I have not been blogging due to my lack of interesting things to say. I could, like some (none, of course, who are reading this) have had profuse verbal diarrhea and spouted off whatever I could possibly muster. However, I didn't have time for that. I am glad, though, to be not writing anything academic currently. Who do I have to impress at this massive third place called the Internet? No one. That's the beauty of a third place.

One of the difficulties I have in maintaining this blog is a clear lack of purpose. I feel as though I need to be building up to...something. Some grand saying or narrative that will change your or my life(s). Although, when I tried that, say, at my other blog, it failed miserably.

Maybe now that classes are over, I'll have more to write about. Although, I'll be starting on my to-be daughter's nursery maybe not.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Son of Adam

Today we found out (finally!) that our little baby in utero is a girl. It came as quite a shock, since we both had the "boy feeling". I am filled with joy, though, as her birthdate ("meeting day") between daddy and daughter draws near. It does remind me, though, of how I *should* already be a father, but lost the baby through miscarriage. I wrote this about Hyam, the name of our unborn son, October 2004 when he should have been born:

A Son of Adam

Some nights I go through the house turning on all the lights
Just so that they will be there for me
A reminder of that primordial inbreaking
When a light that couldn’t be overwhelmed was sparked.
A life that could not be put away by the schemes and machinations of men;
A life taken down by man but raised by God again.

The lights dim to just a vigil candle
A votive lit in memory of one short life;
So gentle and peaceful
Even though winds blew strong
A guiding hand blocked it during a slow gait
Towards shelter.

And I wonder when God will give us life again.
With one small light darkness easily prevails
And snuff out a flickering flame;
Leaving only the smell of smoke and sulfur;
Bitterness and wormwood mixed to drink together.
Then the light goes out—
There is no consolation in the dark because no one can see you cry.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

Thanks to the incessant work of Greg and Jason (see comments to the post below this one), I am blogging. This is only on a provisional basis, as I am fairly swamped with three grad classes, an old house that needs lots of TLC, 50 hour work week, and an upcoming little Warren. That is why things have been a little...well...dead. Here's a pic of my little one (if I can figure out how to do it):

My hope is to do some blogging as my new morning routine, so that I can at least write a little everyday (or almost everyday). I'm thinking, also, of getting rid of the comments feature (not because of Greg and Jason), so that I can just say things without criticism! Not really. It makes it more "journal"-like. We'll see, I guess.


Monday, May 30, 2005

Do I Still Blog?

Yes, I think.

I already wrote a bit of this post, which is a bummer because I was on a roll. Then, through the magic of technology, it disappeared. Such is life.

These last couple of weeks have been hectic. My wife (who more and more I fall in love June we will have been married two wonderful years) and I just bought a house here in Beaver Falls. We won the award of "Family that Lives Closest to the Church" since, literally, it is right across the street from our congregation. Unfortunately, there goes my excuse for being late...although we lived only a block away before... It is a bit of a fixer, so I've been working pretty late into the night. But it makes me happy if nothing else. Property has an amazing effect on a person's psyche: it makes you want to take care of it, make it look beautiful, to have the yard, the roof, the drywall all scream out "Glory to God the Highest!" It's nice to think that my handiwork might facilitate that process...although lots of screaming by said drywall will tend to keep me awake at night.

Other than that, my weekends have been taken up with weddings galore. I realized at the last wedding I attended that most people follow a formula with their reactions. You have the people who ask if you (the bride or groom) are nervous, those who ask if you are excited, those who make the obligatory "marriage is slavery" joke without believing it, and various others that tag along. As a former groom, all the nervous talk made me think that I was supposed to be nervous, although I had nothing to be afraid of. I tried to break out of the formula a little this weekend by countering some of the "marriage is slavery" jokes. I proposed the subversive twist of "marriage is freedom" sayings. I love marriage.

One thing that I have been thinking about today is music. Driving home from Syracuse last night (a stupefying long drive, especially once 1 in the morning hits and you still are on I-79), I heard some songs over and over again. At one point I found myself on the Disney radio station listening, I think, to "Mambo Number Five"--which struck me as odd considering the subject matter. Once parents made up songs or lullabys to entertain, calm, and distract (in a good sense) their children. Now we just subject them to formulaic music with no local connection. Our whole American culture is 'national' instead of regional or local or communal. Even our counter-culture tends to "sell out" and sign the big record deal. Maybe I'm just jonesing for troubadours or more Homers to be out there...or more Jesuses to tell local stories that make us think and inspire our faith in God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Beauty of the Lord

My postmodern protestant crisis has, officially, blossomed into a full-scale crisis of faith tonight. Seems that my classes at Geneva have this power to them...

However, I am comforted (without even knowing all the answers) by Psalms 89, 90, and 73. 89, especially, holds near and dear to my now.

89 is strange in that the writer starts off saying "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known your faithfulness to all generations." The words 'faithfulness' (God's keeping to his covenant promises) and 'mercy' (God's grace, and in a way, his acting out of the promises in day-to-day life) are key words throughout the psalm. The interesting part is that the psalm is not, overall, a happy one. The ending benediction "Blessed be the Lord forevermore. Amen." was most likely added by the final compiler of the book (each of the five psalm 'books' ends with a similar benediction). Other than that, though, the psalm is almost tragic. It recounts God's faithfulness and mercy to David and then, in what is reminiscent of the Exile, it turns to questioning God's faithfulness because the promises are being thrown down and trampled on. How could God let this happen? Where is God? And (most famously) how long, o Lord? With that sentiment the psalm ends, unresolved.

That is about how I feel right now. I always talk about the presence of God and have yet to receive all the answers I desire. In Psalm 90, written by Moses, his summary is my cry "Return, o Lord! How long? And have compassion on your servants. Oh, satisfy us early with your mercy that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! Make us glad according to the days you have afflicted us, the years we have seen evil. Let your work appear to your servants and your glory to their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands." There really is no other way to describe it. I long for the presence, the real, tangible presence of my God. The clear cut understanding of his works, both in the original creation and in what he is doing know. His presence, though, is elusive.

Psalm 73 completes my thoughts. Here the psalmist, Asaph, looks at the injustice of the world and questions God's faithfulness. However, this psalm ends on a positive note. It is in entering the sanctuary of God that he finally understands his own stupidity and ignorance (I also realize how applicable that part is to me!).

The beauty of the Lord, in a lot of ways, he allows us to be human. He allows us to doubt, to question, to ponder, and even to disbelieve. For "you hold me by my right hand". Even though my faith and its implications seem so tortured and bewildering right now, God is there. He may be hidden from me, from the world, but he allows me to cry "Return, o Lord! How long?" I still wonder, though, the things that I have been wondering...where is the Spirit? Where is the presence of God? Who can mediate it here on earth (the authority question, in a sense)?

My own sense of myself and the Church is that of Jerusalem after it has been sacked by Babylon: I am living the book of Lamentations right now. Is God really setting things to rights by Jesus as Paul argued throughout his writings? Why haven't things changed then? Is the promise of his coming so far off still?

My last comfort is Psalm 42-43. It has my two favorite passages in it.

"Why are you so cast down, o my soul? Why so disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him, the help of my countenance and my God."

"The Lord will command his lovingkindness (Hebrew is hesed, meaning love and mercy--a beautiful word) in the daytime and in the night his son shall be with me--a prayer to the God of my life."

Even when knowledge fails and faith falters, hope is there. But greater than hope is love, that even when my heart is discouraged, the love of God through Jesus keeps me going in hope.

God, forgive my unbelief and lead me to the knowledge of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2005

My Postmodern Protestant Dilemma

Right now I'm reading The Soul of the American University by George Marsden. It is a very challenging book to me because Marsden carefully uncovers some of my own cherished beliefs as belonging to the world of secularism. Or, in the case of individualism, he shows how shallow and uncritical my antipathy towards ideas are. Most of all though, and this is mainly due to the professor of the course, I am finding myself once again struggling with the issue of authority and, especially, "ultimate" authority in the Church. I had these same struggles while reading John Henry Newman's The Idea of the University.

With Protestantism as a whole, we have an authoritorial crisis. The Reformers, I believe, originally did not want to separate their ecclesial authority structure from the bishopric of Rome. When (basically) forced out, they wanted to set up their own authoritative tradition, much in line with the whole "Rome" idea, except without all the "added" trappings of 16th century Catholicism. However, they found that many began to take the whole idea of an individual's right to question the authority structure without any ultimate reference to ecclesial authority (by which I am refering mainly to the Anabaptists as I understand their history). With the onset of Enlightenment emphases on individualism and autonomy (notably popularized by means of the Reformation), the authority crisis became graver and deeper: we all know that story by now. In wasn't until the rise of postmodernism (thanks Derrida) that the authority of the individual to make broad, absolute (yet individual, go figure) claims was successfully challenged. The modernist church couldn't answer the claims, since it was largely built on the same and if you are sawing the branch the you sit on you only have two options: you could fall and "great was its fall" or the saw could bind and you could realize your folly. Postmodernism is the outgrowth of that bind (which in many ways proceeded to get off the limb, finish the cut, and then jump after it in existential angsty depression).

So, my postmodern protestant dilemma.

From whence comes authority?

This also grew out of a vague suspicion (once again, something I thought of in class when I probably should have been thinking about other things, but it was a logical jump for me, which isn't saying much...) that "orthodoxy" was ultimately situational because it invariably grew out of an historical context (I feel so adult using 'an' with 'historical'). The ecumenical creeds grew out of a religious and philosophical climate that was decidedly Greek and decidely neo-Platonic. Both of which, I think, have been successfully challenged from a Biblical perspective by H. Dooyeweerd (it was also challenged by the amount of vowels in his name--wow!). So how can we relate these ideas of orthodoxy to our modern context that has shades of Greece, Rome, Israel, Britain, Germany and many other cultures and contexts? Does our orthodoxy look (or read) any different? Is it truly an absolute and timeless truth that we must follow uncritically? Anyway, that's a bit off topic for now.

If we do question the orthodoxy, one of the only remaining vestiges of old church authority remaining in Protestantism as a whole, or even if we don't, where does authority come from? Protestantism already has a history of asking this question of the Bible, hence the rise (and God-blessed demise) of higher criticism. We (by which I mean Protestants) have a strong tradition that if a man senses (or feels or 'knows' or whatever) a call to the ministry, most likely he will end up as a pastor. The judges of this call are men who came to the pastorate by similar means. However, we also have a strong tradition that we don't trust 'feelings' or emotion to judge theological issues, which I think would logically apply to the issue of pastoral calling. The problem being that Protestants have for a long time had a problem determining the workings of the Spirit, fearing (rightly) the absolute quenching of any Spirit activity and also fearing (rightly) the mania that can (but not necessarily) accompany revivals and Charismatic branches of the church. We end up tending to the former end of the spectrum and then usually ending up as cessationists.

What we have used though to determine 'fitness' for leadership, and therefore authority, has been education. Education is close to a co-mediator with Jesus in many Protestant circles, especially as the definition of 'Protestant' becomes larger and larger and more inclusive (and therefore more nebulous). Originally, at Harvard, a man needed to be educated (in the classical tradition, especially with the Biblical languages) to be in the pastorate. I am all for, by the way, the mastering of the Biblical languages by the pastorate (and not just because that is what my academic degree is in). This was because since the Reformers and Reformed had cast off papal authority they needed to back up their claims to Scriptural meaning with first rate exegesis and scholarship (my friends, I hope, will note the drool that just proceeded out of my mouth in excited fervency). However, in many places today, we have "pastor's seminaries" and "academic seminaries"--meaning that "pastor's sem" doesn't need to be (and therefore, as a rule, isn't) academic or inclined to serious scholarship. In other words, you can be a better Biblical scholar by getting an undergraduate degree (or pulling a "Good Will Hunting") in Biblical studies than you can be getting a master's at a "pastor's sem". Although, if you do that, you don't have any authority (but you do get a lot of weird glances from folks who are wary of someone speaking theologically that hasn't been to seminary). This isn't to say that you can't be academically astute by going to a ps (I'm abbreviating further since I didn't know I'd be using the description so much): the pastor at my church is very astute and academically inclined without losing his practicality.

Anyway, the authority is based on education that might not be wonderful. Plus, that sort of education doesn't breed the liberal mind of critical self-and-other inquiry. It is rewarded by the candidate being tested on the basis of a (more) limited, sectarian orthodoxy (not to be confused, necessarily, with the orthodoxy mentioned earlier). Not that nonsectarianism is possible in our present state (or possibly any state). I hope that the problem is coming into focus. If orthodoxy is historically conditioned and we are in a furthered (not a different necessarily since history is a continuum) historical setting, how can we base our authority on a lacking education that conditions to an orthodoxy that may need to have its underpinnings examined in light of Christian philosophy?

One solution is that we need a dictator. Protestants, generally, see the papacy that way and would balk at such an idea. Whether or not I'd identify the papacy with a dictator, I too would balk at the total control of God's church by one fallible human. Order may arise out of that, but it would severely limit the truth of God's word being spoken in any age because it would produce an impenetrable dogma (in the bad sense) that eventually would be codified outside of its historical moorings and may, anyway, be based on philosophical presuppositions that would find the climate of Greece or Rome or Germany or America more favorable than that of ancient Palestine.

Another solution is anarchy. Technically, it has been argued that Jesus' church is to be an anarchy, based on the passage that says "The Gentiles lord (Gr. arche) it over their subjects, but it shall not be so with you..." Unfortunately, 'anarcy' conjures up images of bomb-throwing individualist dictators (they would impose their version of authority and truth on whoever couldn't withstand them--the mafia is a good example) that ends up as a true dictatorship, which brings us back to the other option.

Linguistically I fail to come up with any way to describe an ideal situation of church authority (possibly because I can't think of any ideal situation, but the question of "does language bring it into being or does the being create the language" befuddles the problem further). It would be nice to return to the system of communal appelate judges of the Old Testament, but they had Moses (or the king) to go to to settle hard disputes. We do, technically, have Jesus to go to, but my tradition doesn't believe that he speaks audibly anymore (he only speaks through the pastors, which is a convenient way to befuddle any congregation that thinks about how a pastor is claiming papal powers for himself, even if he contradicts the Protestant pastor--sometimes of the same denomination--down the street on regular occasion).

In the long run, I am reiterating what I starting to say in "The Spirit says 'Come'" (which, by the way, Gideon I would like to speak some other time, thanks for the comment): where is the presence of God today? The Old Testament had theophanies and the New Testament had the ultimate theophany in Jesus (even though I'm critical of 'official' orthodoxy that doesn't mean that I'm not still orthodox). We seem, though, to have nothing, except the feelings of either the "mad" (declared so by the establishment), the "bad" (see previous comment), or the "Godly" (the sort-of-inspired pastor in his "preaching of the word", which, by the way, is a poor misconstruel of what the apostles meant by that phrase--it never meant a sermon, but more on that anon). But feelings, as I've said before, don't cut it in my tradition.

My initial thought (if anything this late in a long post can be called 'initial') is that we need to stop viewing the church as an institution and more as a community. The definition of those two words, however, is greatly debatable--and the two concepts are sometimes conflated (hence the presence of an institutional advancement office at a college that calls itself a 'community'). Most view an institution as something governed by strict rules while a community is more 'informal'. Apart from being impossible (everything has limits and boundaries and rules, although I argued it in a different context), communities always have rules--membership is always by strict rules and exclusion from a community can be harsh and unrelenting. (This, as a side note, lends some credence, I think, to NT Wright's understand in the New Perspective, with faith--given by the Holy Spirit--determining the community's membership).

At this point, I'm at a loss of what to say next. I feel that I've argued this all before, both on this blog and with myself and others to no suitable conclusion. Any comments would be appreciated. If any of you, dear readers, have read this far, thank you for your time and consideration into this poor, bedraggled and ragged 'souls' spiritual wanderings and confusions. Maybe I should rename the blog "Job's Mutterings"?

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


In this world of shifting allegiances, changing metaphysics, and transient politics, it is good to know that at least the speed of light is constant...

...or is it...

Thanks for you time.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Structure of the Temple

Here's an idea. I wish I knew how to draw it for the Blogger, but I don't know how.

The Torah of God, His covenant with His people, is like the structure of a house: the rough framing, the foundation, the sheathing, the roof, etc. All the things that make a house livable. The Prophets are like the building inspectors, making sure that we are building up to code and not trying to (say) cantilever large additions with just the balancing support of vinyl siding. The Wisdom books are how we fill the house, with all sorts of comforts and treasures, the things that make our homes 'homish' and pleasant to do our work or living and our loving in. May God's presence fill that Creational house.

Thanks for your time.

The "Free" Market

I think, with the thoughts I posted about boundaries in Creation, that the term 'free market', from an absolute standpoint, is a misnomer. Since the market is a created thing (potential-wise by God, actualized by man), it must follow in those created boundaries. Otherwise, it attains the status of 'principality and power', which is a larger symptom of cultural breakdown.

If we are talking from a human standpoint, though, the term does make sense. A market 'free' from civil government control. But I believe, in our post-Enlightenment context, that it is necessary to make that linguistic distinction, lest we find another way to succumb to economic idolatry.

In a way, we could say then that no market is ever 'free', since it is bounded by issues of place, time, people, etc. It's natural boundaries are non-negotiable in that sense (the market cannot be absolutized and, therefore, cannot be effectively globalized without extreme violence to the places, times, people, etc. that the market affects). It's artificial boundaries, however, are the proper place for our tradition of wisdom to take root and dialogue in a humble way.

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Adam Smith

Here's an interesting article about Adam Smith. Maybe it would do us good to go back and read primary sources again instead of just ingesting later interpreters...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


This is a poem I wrote tonight in reflection on Dr. Miller's class on the History of Higher Education. It is a work in progress, I'm not sure how to end it, but I thought I'd offer it here. Enjoy.



I’m getting this sneaking suspicion
That I’m a character in a story
That I have not written
And that I cannot tell
But in broken snippets here and there.

I wonder
Is the writer benevolent?
Or, is the writer still alive?
It could be that some power
Set it in motion and has, subsequently,
In history disappeared.

If the writer,
Still writing the assumption stands,
Is benevolent,
Where do I fit in that benevolence?

It is only the addition of one letter
And one space
That makes it mean
‘Good violence’.

Every story has an end,
A goal towards which every action
What is my end, or the end?
When we get there,
Will what I have done,
Will what I have left undone,
Make sense?

It is possible
That I am not supposed to be aware
Of my storied existence.
Did the writer write the writ
That I should be thusly educated?
Or was it an act of my free will?

If the story has a predetermined ending,
Does my will exert any force
Or does it just follow previously laid out

It’s a funny progress
And frightening as well.
But forward somehow it moves
With every clock tick tocking away.

Is it my place to retell the story?
To subvert the storyteller en route
To their ending—to guide it to my own

Even the language I speak
The writer must know
And not only know,
But must give to me.
But how can I act freely
If I cannot even determine
The words I use or what they mean?

I’m getting the sneaking suspicion,
That all I’ve known needs reorientation,
To orient again, to face more east than before.
That maybe ‘respect’ is a fundamental thing.

Maybe I’m an unknowing actor,
Given from ages past an unfinished script,
Which I adlib
Here faithfully
Here foolishly
There falsely.

Freedom lays here
Within limits I choose not.
And applause lays at the end,
Not of my character’s exit stage left,
But of curtain dropping.

In the meantime,
We wait from the writer’s promptings
To show us how to act
To assuage our grief at forgotten lines
To calm our captivated emotions.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Jubilee Reflections

These are a little late...

First of all, thanks to Gideon for his kind words in a comment on this blog. Hopefully, next time we will have a chance to sit and talk. I enjoyed meeting his family. I also realized that he has a striking similarity to Jean Reno, a famous actor in such movies as Ronin. Is Gideon a top-secret incognito neo-calvinist movie star? Only time will tell.

Elaine Storkey, of TearFund spoke about poverty and global warming. Her information about poverty was intriguing and solidified my commitment to Fair Trade. I am still not convinced about the threat of global warming, but our dependence on non-renewable fuel sources does worry me. Our dependence on them is close, I think, to idolatry. Why is it that we refuse to live more simply, more locally, whether that is with a sustainable city or a sustainable country?

I also heard Alan Storkey speak on economics. His insights were helpful and I hope to blog more fully about them soon. I am still a "Creational Capitalist" but with more knowledge and less susceptible to rhetoric (or, at least, I hope I am).

Our (my wife's and mine) experience was made especially enjoyable by a chance meeting (through the providetial auspices of Scott Calgaro) with Larry Bourgeois, a coffee guru. He helped Bethany and I think carefully and more fully about our coffeeshop dreams in the Falls and set us up with contacts and information for the process.

Overall, Jubilee was a wonderful experience this year. My hope, though, is not for myself, but for all those undergrads who take it back to school with them.

Covenant Renewal

Two posts today (hopefully):

The first is a sort of comment on Derek Melleby's last blog about the Ten Commandments controversy. Strange, in a nation full of dispensationalists and antinomians that a rather theonomic position would be taken over this issue. That's beside the point though...

There is a weird phenomemnon in our Bibles. We have some very similar (though slightly different) laws in the Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) that have often been understood properly. Part of the problem is our conception of "law" in the Bible. We should understand it in its ancient near eastern setting as covenant conditions given by a Lord to a servant. They are not timeless or authority-less, nor are they necessarily universal (although, through a different route, that could be said of the Biblical Torah).

The reason that the Torah has many similar, but differing, laws is because of the process of 'covenant renewal'. When situations changed (the death of the lord and the ascension of his successor, the death of the servant and the ascension of his progeny, a change of times due to war or location or whatever, etc.) the covenant was renewed. During that process, the former covenant was still considered binding, except the parts that the change affected. In the case of the covenant of Exodus-Leviticus, the situation was of a traveling and assembling army. By the time of Deuteronomy, the army is fully assembled and ready to go, plus their status as traveling is coming to a close as they descend into their permanent home in the land. This can be seen especially in the change of phrasing in laws from "outside the camp" to something like "outside his people or outside the city". Obviously, a stationary people wouldn't need laws that spoke of "outside the camp", since the "camp" is a traveling phenomemnon. This also clears up the controversy over how much we are actually supposed to tithe, 30% or 10%.


When Jesus comes in the NT, we announces the coming of the kingdom of God and (therefore) a renewed (or new) covenant. His stipulations in the Beatitudes should, I think, be seen in the light of ancient covenant renewal ceremonies, especially as it is ratified in the upper room and at Pentecost. I wonder aloud, then, whether one of the Gospels (I would think Luke-Acts, but I can't speak for certain, it might well be Matthew) is a retelling of the Torah traditions, especially Deuteronomy to emphasize this theological dimension.

So what does this mean?

This means that our understanding of the Torah must be conditioned by the covenant renewal that takes place in and through Jesus and the Spirit. Mouw's modest proposal might have a theological strength that heretofore hasn't been expounded or 'exploited'.

Shalom olam.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


I've been writing a lot about economics and politics on this blog lately. I want to take (a much needed) break from that. I find myself falling back into old habits of arrogance and impatience that doesn't befit a conversation amongst the people of God. So today I want to take a different tack that may have something to say to those issues, but I'm hoping not to directly discuss them. My goal is much more practical and pastoral (for myself mainly), than theoretical.

Today, at assembly, the pastor talked about "modesty" in the sense, largely, of humility. He talked about that passage where James and John are fighting over who will sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory. Jesus replies that God has already chosen who will sit at the sides, so human posturing really will avail nothing. My pastor brought up the distinction between the "theology of the cross" and the "theology of glory" postulated by Luther. Afterwards, we talked a bit and I brought up a little of exegesis from NT Wright about how the other place where "right and left hand" of Jesus and who is at them is during the crucifixion, when the political rebels are the ones at his sides (one believing, one not). I thought it was an interesting tie in between the usually disparate theological strands: the cross is the glory. The Kingdom is shown exactly at the point when all is thought lost and subverted. Instead of being about power, it is about weakness, about submission in the hardest way to tyranny, etc.

That always makes me think. Even though I do not make a lot of money, I live a comfortable, semi-middle class lifestyle. I do not have any political enemies, except in the sense of being classified as "American" with all the enemies of that somewhat mystical entity. There isn't much suffering that isn't self-inflicted (not balancing the checkbook or something like that).

What has Jesus called me to in my life, then? "Take up your cross and follow me..." Wow. Hard. This week I've been reading The Climax of the Covenant, with some helpful insights about what exactly the Church's role in this is. It is too often, I fear, that we view our Christian walk and our Church existence in individualistic terms. Wright really does a fine job bringing an ekklesial focus to the problem:
...And when the church really turns to face this task [evangelism by means of properly understanding Paul--you'll have to read the book for a better explanation], as it must if it is to be ture to its vocation, it will find...that its role is Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed. And with this we realize...that there is no room in this hermeneutic for a Christain or ecclesial triumphalism, which is precisely what Paul is opposing in Romans 11. The church is called to do and be for the world what the Messiah was and did for Israel. All that has been said so far must therefore call into question a good deal that is done in and by the church in pursuit of its own security and self-importance. The church must find out the pain of the world, and must share it and bear it.

When that taks is done, then Paul's theology suggests that what we call 'natural evil' will also, finally, be undone. God's covenant purpose was to choose a people in and through whom the world would be healed. That purpose, reaching its climax in the Messiah, is now to be worked out through his people. The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and come to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God; and in the meantime the Church is to share the groaning of the world in the faith that her own groanings are in turn shared by the Spirit. The Spirit thus accomplishes withing the church what, mutatis mutandis [I have no idea what that Latin phrase means], the Torah accomplished within Israel. Just as the sin and death of the world were concentrated, by means of Torah, on Israel, so now the pain and grief of the world is to be concentrated, by means of the Spirit, on the Christos [in Greek font in the original], the family of the Messiah, so that it may be heald (Romans 8:18-30). This is the very antithesis of all Christian triumphalism or imperialism. (256)

How can the ekklesia do this? I notice in myself the desire to not suffer, to not "fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col. 1:24). There is so much affluence, so much classism, so many Western idols that clog my mind and my heart, my whole being, that it is difficult to want to suffer. It brings out a longing for those days of complete consummation of God's purposes when "every tear shall be wiped away, etc.". However, it is there that I notice the suffering of God's people to be at its height. In Revelation 22, it talks about the Gentiles (erroneously, I think, translated "nations" here) of those who are saved and the kings of the earth bringing the glory and honor of the Gentiles into the city, meaning that they are outside of the city. It also talks about how no thing that defiles (i.e. no hardened sinners) come in but are also outside. It talks about how the tree of life provides leaves for the healing of the Gentiles. All these things speak about pain and suffering, especially the Church (the New Jerusalem) bringing the healing to those Gentiles. No utopia here, just more work, more mission, more struggling to bring about God's purposes.

Ekklesia, the world needs you. We need to start praying where the world is in hurt. We need to start emptying ourselves (Philip. 2) where the world wants. God help us. Jesus help us. Spirit help us. Lord have mercy.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Spirit says "Come"

Tonight at assembly...

Quick Note: I am having a dickens of a time typing tonight for some reason...

...we talked about "cults". Cults are interesting because if your view changes, what may have seemed a cult turns out not to be one. Cults look at Evangelical or Reformed assemblies as wayward cults. So, in other words, it is hard to come up with a suitable definition without making it sound something like this:

"A cult is anyone not like us."

Sounds kinda cultish.

Three particular doctrines were singled out as particularly "cultish": no Trinity, no two-natures of Jesus, no salvation by grace through faith alone. My question, though, is: were there any cults before Nicea? The doctrine of the Trinity has a long and sordid history and has never really satisfactorily been defined to an intelligible state (maybe it falls under the "description" idea I posted about earlier?). Also, does this make the Catholic faith at least a "little" far as I know the whole third doctrine above (salvation by grace through faith) was the reason for a large Church split back in the 16th century.

So how do we define a cult? A better question, maybe, is how do we define the Church? Part of what the apostles teaching on the Church seems to be that the Spirit of God fills it, much like it did the ancient Temple and Jesus. Could this possibly be the test of what the true (and therefore what the false) Church is: the presence of the Spirit? I don't claim to know, at this point, what the "presence of the Spirit" is, but at times past it seems that God has made it very clear: fiery theophanies, a dove alighting on a wet Messiah, and odd tongues of fire appearing over people's head who were uneducated but speaking several languages fluently (I feel that I missed that part in my former language training).

I've said before here that I think we need pray about the division of the Church into so many parts because it doesn't necessarily show a divided emphasis (which is fine and different places need different things at different times), but because it shows a divided allegiance. God is not at war with Himself, but His Church seems to be at war with itself continually.

I guess that I'm kind of hoping for an Elijah-Mt.Carmel experience for the Church: we need to know who truly has the Spirit of God. Not, of course, that one denomination need have a monopoly on God's Spirit. There are certain beliefs, though, that I'm sure carry the divine imprimatur instead of others.

Come, Holy Spirit, guide us to unity in the faith and to unity of purpose together as God's people.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Over there...

Over at my other blog, DavarLogos I have posted a "Biblical Liturgy of Psalm 107" and an introductory explanation of my purpose and method. Please tell me what you think.

Dialogical Worship

My tradition has a strong belief that every church worship service needs to have "the word preached" by a seminary ordained man. Historically, this has been very important to Calvinistic Protestantism. One of the few symbolic things established (and somewhat maintained) by the Reformers was that the Bible would be on a raised lectern (almost altarish) to show how the Word was to be honored above all. Since the "preacher" is the bearer of God's Word, then he also is accorded a high place. (BTW, I'm not writing this post because I am angry with my tradition or my pastor, I'm writing to just get some thoughts down). I wonder, though, about the expediency of this model. In my studies at Geneva's Higher Ed program I have been introduced to dialogical pedagogical techniques and (a modified) critical realist epistemology. They seem to work well for the creational nature of learning and knowledge. Since the Church's work is to be about 'learning and knowledge' I wonder if we should try and implement these things, not just in Sabbath school, but also in formal worship.

More on this anon...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Comment and a Challenge

I originally wrote this entry with a bit of anger arrogance. I rewrite it because I want to say some things differently. Firstly, all the 'comments' that I made I want to save for a non-vitriolic blog entry in the future, they were: government as non-savior and the correct use of the Prophets. To be continued...

Next is my challenge: let us start a discussion, using the whole of Scripture, as to what the different spheres of government (individual, family, Church, State) have under their jurisdiction, their 'boundaries'. It is only by delving into our marching orders of Scripture that we can form some sort of semblance and consensus about how to go about ecclesial renewal and cultural renewal. My own analysis will necessary be sporadic, as my homework and work loads have both substantially increased.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


This blog isn't about the politics that I've been writing about in the last few posts. Honestly, I can't think of what else to say. If you can help, please post your comments in the comments section of the last entry "Christians in the Polis". I apologize, but once I put the pen down, so to speak, I lost my train of thought.


Today in assembly, the pastor talked about defining grace. He lamented the fact that he, being Reformed, could not think of an adequate definition. He asked us as a congregation how we should do it (in the pastor sort of way that tells you it is genuine, but rhetorical). As per my wont (I talk a lot during sermons), I leaned over towards my wife (Happy Song of Solomon Day, hun!) and said, "You can only define grace through a story." I did figure, though, that we were going to get a systematic definition. I was wrong, the pastor told a story about hobos to illustrate grace. He had to keep adding to the story, though, to get to where he could adequate (to him) define the concept. I wonder, though, should we do this?

When I think of grace (hesed in Hebrew, charis in Greek), I think of the Exodus, I think of the return from Exile, I think of the miracles, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus. All these stories interplay and comment on one another to form my understanding of grace. But I can't define it. I don't think I want to.

Definitions are a way of domestication. When Adam was given a job, his job was definition: taxonomy to be precise. He had to classify, to name, the animals. 'Naming' in Scripture takes on an ownership quality. Whoever names is the superior (or higher) power, to whom we owe our allegiance and faith. God gives Abram a new name. The Pharoah gives Joseph a new name. Nebuchadnezzar gives Daniel and his biz-oys (I'm hip, I'm with it) new names. Being someone (or something) under your naming power puts them under your jurisdiction, your control. It domesticates them.

When CS Lewis talks about Aslan, he is always sure to say that "he is not a tame lion". Can we define God? Can we define his grace? Traditional theology (for the first question Nicea and Chalcedon and for the second the whole corpus of Reformed writings) has sounded an astonding and deafening 'yes'. In one sense, definition is very important. That is how we have foundation cognitively and socially (Torah plays this role in the Bible--I recommend Brueggemann's "The Creative Word" for more on this and related ideas, applied to church education). But, definitions can get stagnant and distorted as time goes by and situations change. The whole Hebrew Bible is a testimony to that. That is when the prophets step in and say, "Yes, we need to know grace, but we can't know it just through definition, we need to know it through embracing it, living our lives as if we are defined by it, not the other way around. All our definitions of God will be seen to be truncated and small, all our definitions of grace will be seen to favor (grace and favor are the same word in Hebrew) our way of living and not the way God has for us to live." God cannot be domesticated.

Who is God, then? All I know is what He has revealed in His Word, but even there I see that my knowledge is partial and cloudy. When I want to know God, I end up (every single time) finding myself drawn into a knowledge of a first-century Jew, whose complexities and idiosyncracies I cannot wrap my head around. When I want to understand grace, I end up being caught up (raptured, if you will) in the stories of Exodus, Exile, and Resurrection--the story of Israel and Jesus. Instead of defining God and grace, I find them ever more defining me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Christian in the Polis

I like the way that Gideon Strauss put it on the Dialogical Coffee House when he called 'Libertarianism' "Egyptian Gold". There are things in the philosophy that do, I believe, resonate deeply with Christian values. But, also, there are things that rail against it and so must be examined and critiqued. I am not a wholehearted endorser of the Libertarian movement. One such place is the over-focus on individualism. While individual liberty is a very important thing, it is not the only thing. Libertarians must be concerned with familial liberty, too. Also, since the family is the building block of both the Church and society, liberty in the family becomes how to express the desire of "liberty under God for all".

Second, many 'Libertarians' think that their philosophy allows them to be 'Libertines', those who have no moral foundation. They think that if there is no State to enforce anything, then I can do anything. The Christian horror at this should be obvious. There is no such thing as liberty without covenantal authority. In other words, those that believe they can live without God's Torah or nomos (Hebrew and Greek words for God's ordering principles), are fools (Ps. 14). This leads to something very important: there is no such thing as 'pure' liberty, only derivative responsibility.

This can be seen in Creation: sun, moon, and stars are given authority over what God had originally made to stand by itself--light. Man is given authority over beasts, birds, and bass. Authority (or, if you want, government) is creational; but is it derivative. It must answer to its higher authority, which is always and in all things going to be God. Part of the original creation is that God has set boundaries that keep order and preserve Creation for its true development. If any of the governing authorities let those boundaries be ignored or intentionally transgress them (the original meaning of 'transgress' is to step over a line), then their is chaos and oppression and violence. When these things get out of hand, all Creational boundaries are set free (by God) to stop those that would seek to establish their own boundaries (the Flood being a prime example of this phenomenon).

Along with this, there is also the recongnition that no single created authority is total or absolute. Only God is the absolute ruler and rules over all things. All governments (whether cosmic or human) have their boundaries that they must not cross, under penalty of divine judgement. Part of the right stewardship of God's creation is that we must determine those boundaries and preserve them through our politics, our economics, our ecclesial structures, etc. This can be done through many means: legislation, wisdom traditions, community standards (both implicit and explicit), etc. Determining how to enforce these boundaries is also part of the wise stewardship of Creation. Thankfully, we are not left alone to decide these things: God offers his Torah/nomos as the foundation of our thought about wise stewardship (I take Jesus' commands as part of that Torah/nomos complex, but not the only part).

In that sense 'government' is creational. This is because God has created hierarchies into His Creation, to glorify him and for the best use (least waste) of His Creation. However, that does not mean that all expressions of this created reality are good. Many can be totally rebellious, preserving only the idea of authority as their creational component. As neo-calvinists, we must realize that sometimes created structures are so distorted as to look 'new under the sun'. Just because there is a centralized State does not mean that is it good or the ultimate will of God, it may just be a perversion of God's mandate of caring, bounded authority. Too often we look at the institutions of today and think that since this is way it is, it is a good (maybe slightly corrupted) way. If 'government' steps outside its boundaries, it is not good and must be called back through prophetic speech and action.

What, then, are the different types of 'government' and their boundaries? That is one of the most important questions that can be asked. Another is, is there a hierarchical structure to them, in other words, is one form of governance more important than another?

First, there is family (or self) government, which is the most important type of all. If the family is weak, all of society (Church, State, business, agriculture, etc.) is weak. Families are the place of moral and educational training (Deut. 6 and the book of Proverbs); discipline (Proverbs and various Deut. laws); and long-term welfare (I Tim. 5:4). It is in this context that most of the things of life are to be exercised. Dominion (in the 'keep and till' meaning, not domination) is primarily a family enterprise: being faithful with the little we are given, not desiring more and not despising it, though it is little. That is why the fifth commandment is so prominent: the family is the basis of social order, if it is despised or mistreated, then all of society has no hope. Adultery leads to the same thing, societal collapse. Man can be most easily faithful when his family is given the freedom to puruse their own interests (in the context of a faithfilled community that lives by the Biblical narrative) and his authority wont be lost or nullified by a bureaucracy. I have spoken at this from an economic standpoint in "Creational Capitalism", to which I point the readers.

It is 'civil government' (too often erroneously shorthanded to simply 'government') that is the tricky issue. Civil government is to be concerned with the welfare of the poor and the establishment and protection of justice. No Christian, whether Left, Right, Center, or 'off the map', would disagree with that. The question is what the words mean and their proper boundaries. "Welfare of the poor" is that the '60 Great Society ideal? Or does it mean that in the court system, the local magistrate has the economic liability (and responsibility) to take up their case so that the rich cannot use their clout to buy the case (the Old Testament idea...which is probably the right one)? The 'establishment and protection of justice' is another tricky phrase. Most activities by man are not under the jurisdiction of the 'civil government', according to Scripture. Notice that no one is charged to enforce the Jubilee laws or the gleaning laws, the laws that we today call 'justice to the poor'. Instead, it is the responsibility of the poor to cry out to God and He will personally see to their justice (through His Church's generosity and teaching and through His historical sanctions). Any State that decides to enforce its own (non-Scriptural) defintion of 'justice' is in rebellion to God.

My hands and mind are tired and taxed at this point...I'll try and continue later.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Creational Capitalism

I am a capitalist. In some circles that I run around in, that is one of the most degrading terms that can be applied to a person. I, however, carry it as a soiled badge of honor. Soiled? Yeah, because capitalism separated from the rulership of Jesus produced the military-industrial economy that has set itself up as end and means, as the idol of consumptive, ignorant, idolatrous masses. As a follower of the true King, I want nothing of this false kingdom (although, in this case, words are much easier than actions). Capitalism cannot, let me emphasized this, cannot happen without the rule of God.

The basics of capitalism, as I see them, are (1) there is such a thing as a 'market' where people exchange goods and services, (2) that people, being both consumers and producers want to use this market, (3) people need the freedom to choose what is best with regards to their local communities and families as to what they will offer, buy, and leave out of the market, and (4) the civil government should have as little of a part in the market as possible. Obviously, these basics are colored by my Christian roots, but to present them otherwise is impossible.

The idea of a market is inevitable. As humans, we are not completely self-sufficient. We cannot produce everything we want or need for ourselves. That leads us to recognize diverse and different talents among our fellow men and women that we would be happy to trade something for their services (whether monetary or not). I, for example, have currently no good way of disposing of my wastes, so I pay the sanitation company to deal with them (this is a bad metaphor, I know, since most sanitation companies are government run therefore most of my waste ends up back in my drinking water or in someone else's backyard--but, for this point, it is an admittedly bad example).

A couple things culturally have led to our misuse of the market into its current, idolatrous, monstrous form. The first is reductionism: we have made everything into a "marketable" entity, when (we learn from experience and God's word) not everything should be made so. The second is the loss of any self-sufficiency: why make for ourselves what we can have others make for us? The third is our dependence on civil government: there are few services NOT provided by the civil government in this country, the basic premise being that if we give the government the power to run our lives, it will.

Is there any way to be a Christian capitalist?

Yes. First off, God is the freer of people to responsibility. Right after the Exodus, God gave His people the Torah. They were in covenant relationship, not autonomous entities (there is no such thing as autonomy). If the Son has set us free from sin and death, we should live that way. In our economic dealings, we should love God with all our heart, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires, secondly, a suitable anthropology: man is a limited creature and shouldn't puff himself up to believe that he is. Here is a lot of the problem of modern 'capitalism' (which I don't think is capitalism at all, with its corporate dependence on government hand-outs, bail-outs, and contracts): man believes that through the market he can be the ruler of the world. There is only one ruler of the world and he delegates authority to those who show themselves responsible enough to use it. We must, in other words, be 'creational capitalists': humans who understand that God has committed extraordinary power into our hands, but who also understand the responsibility that entails and the limits that are inherent in it and that must be self-imposed.

Part of this, though, is the aspect of community. There is no such thing as a global economy. We work in our local areas after local standards, which should be the rule of economic dealings. We (by which I mean Christians) should not be trying to out compete people in other locales as they try to provide services to their communities. Instead of competing, we should be working with our local communities to offer services that actually are needed and helpful for all to follow their callings. A case in point for any entrepenuers in Beaver Falls: WE DON'T NEED ANY MORE TATTOO PARLORS OR BARS! (I might include here tanning salons, but considering the lack of sun for the better part of every winter, that might be an illadvised statement).

In this aspect of community, families must be (as much as possible) economically self-sufficient. Can we produce our own food, clean up after ourselves, and possibly offer something that we lovingly (after the pattern of God's creative acts) craft to our neighbors, whom we profess to love as ourselves (do loving neighbors offer each other food that is going to be detrimental to health or to the local ground, air, or water supply)?

Creational capitalists believe that God has given man freedom to pursue diverse and complementary callings in the care and development of the world. We cannot give these callings over to the government, but must pursue them in local, sufficient communities that are built upon the Greatest Commandment. We must care for what we earn our livelihood from and reduce human waste. Unlike socialism, we do not expect and do not want the government to handle all of this. Instead, we want to develop into mature, godly men and women that are responsible for our lives and the lives of our communities.

What then is the responsibility of government? Depends on which form of government you are speaking about. Self-government (by which I mean the self-governing of both individuals and families) is the first preventative step in the market. As families, the critique of products and services is likely to be more stringent and careful, since we will first offer the products to other family members (basically, I'm not going to give my family stones that I have advertised as bread). Families have an amazing economic control and regulation over themselves--read any essay by Wendell Berry to get a flavor of this--but families must have some backbone and not be worked over in fear by the other members. Family reconstruction and strengthening should be the chief purpose and issue of the church today. Church-government is the next step. If a person falls out of line by offering some sinful product to the market that the family has either been negligent about or not seen, the church steps in and disciplines both the family and the 'seller' in its redemptive way. Problem with that is listed in a previous post, "Elders for Everyone"--basically the church has become largely effeminate. As a strong community though, a whole church refusing to buy products from certain vendors makes a load of economic clout--all churches in an area doing it makes it even more powerful (but, like all power, this must be used wisely and with lots of hard thought and prayer). Thirdly, we have local civil government. Here is where things get a little tricky. Many have argued the line of anarchism in the market, but local government should be in place to limit any sinful activity: prostitution, pornography, etc. that has slipped through the first two levels (and if it has, the community has worse problems than prostitution, etc.). The point, though, is that the government is local and of a manageable size--less corruption comes from less power.

If we as Christians are the cultural vanguards of a creational (that is, limited and responsible) capitalism (that is, God-fearing and life-affirming voluntary and free exchange locally), we can have a great avenue to address the issues of cultural renewal, especially as they speak to things like individualism, consumerism, and other related things. Creational capitalism is the hardest economic theory to put into practice because it takes discipline and hard work, which the modern economy is rabidly against: but God is pleased by hard, good quality, honoring, and enduring work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A New Blog

The word studies I promised won't be found on this blog. They will be found at DavarLogos, which is a combination of the Hebrew and Greek words for 'word' (or to speak, I kinda mixed a verb with a noun). None of the studies are there yet, but they will come. I try and throw out a heads up when I get one up (since, thanks to Gideon Strauss it is rumored that I have thousands of readers on this blog!), so more to come.

PS--I'll also explain what I mean by the "Creational Capitalist" in a soon to be blog.