Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some Bits of Tid

Chris Donato of Tabletalk magazine is continuing his "walk-through" of Dual Citizens on his blog. Here is Part One, Two, and Three.

By the way, I have been informed that Ligonier has pre-sold 200+ copies of the book thus far, not to mention the ones that have been pre-ordered from places like Amazon and CBD. The publisher seems pleased, and sees this as being indicative of people's interest in the issues the book addresses.

Switching topics, I read this in Hahn's Kinship By Covenant a few hours ago:

Paul's argument [in Gal. 3:15-17] is also a reductio ad absurdum: he shows that his opponent's position leads to an unacceptable conclusion. The Judaizers argue that obedience to the Mosaic law is necessary for the Abrahamic blessings to reach the Gentiles, that is, for them to become children of God and children of Abraham. In Paul's view, this would be tantamount to placing the Mosaic law as a condition for the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham to bless the nations through his "seed" (Gen. 22:16-18). Since, at the Aqedah [the binding of Isaac], God put himself under an unconditional, unilaterally binding oath to fulfill his covenant with Abraham, this would be nonsense. To suppose that God added conditions (the Mosaic law) to the Abrahamic covenant, long after it had been unilaterally sworn by God would imply that God acted illegally, reneging on a commitment in a way not tolerated even in human covenants. This would be an unacceptable conclusion; therefore, the premise that obedience to the Mosaic law had become the condition for Gentile inclusion into the Abrahamic covenant blessings must be rejected.
Sheesh, I guess the student of Meredith Kline doesn't fall far from the Klinean tree....

Lastly, a plea to Lamar Odom: Just sign on the dotted line, son. But either way, we're looking pretty good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Who Said That?

Any guesses as to the source of this quote?

"In Paul's view of salvation history, the Abrahamic covenant has chronological priority and ontological primacy over the Mosaic.... The logical corollary of Paul's view of the Abrahamic covenant is that the Mosaic covenant is secondary and subordinate. Moreover, its definitive shape is achieved, not in the earlier Sinai or Wilderness legislation (Exod 20 - Num 36), but in the book of Deuteronomy (i.e., the Book of the Law), where it is ratified by curses invoked and pronounced by Moses and the Levites (Deut 27-30).... Christ's curse-bearing death on the cross simultaneously bears and expiates the Deuteronomic covenant curses and releases the Abrahamic blessings promised to the nations at the [binding of Isaac]" (emphases original throughout).
And please, no Googling....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Catholics: Heartier Partiers?

Speaking of the Protestant Reformation's crushing of the "creative activity" of the Middle Ages, author Tom Hodgkinson writes (with tongue in cheek):

The Puritan Revolution began to introduce boredom to the masses. Even religion and the path to salvation became boring. In the Middle Ages, religion had been full of blood and gore and death. Churches were centres of economic activity and partying as well as of worship. The Church was a patron of the arts and commissioned local craftsmen to make adornments for its properties. The sermons were attended largely for their entertainment value; they provided real theatre. In medieval Florence, people would queue all night to see a great preacher and then stream out of the church after the service, weeping copiously. All this drama and theatre was removed by the Puritans, who labelled the ways of the old Church "superstition" and "idolatry." In other words, all the pagan fun of the Catholic Church, which it had wisely kept, was taken away.
(I quote Hodgkinson here not because I necessarily agree with him, but because he has a knack for being really amusing, even as he offends just about everyone equally.)

This idea that Catholics are better partiers is perhaps what lay behind Sean P. Dailey's article titled "The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking," in which the author argues that the thing that distinguishes Catholic from Protestant drinking is not necessarily quantity, but control. Citing Chesterton's insistence that the way we thank God for wine is by not drinking too much of it, Dailey says that Catholics can steer the middle course between abstinence and excess that Protestants just can't seem to navigate.

(Oh, and another thing that distinguishes the two methods of imbibement is Hilaire Belloc's insistence that Catholics never drink any beverages that don't predate the Reformation [which supposedly limits their choices to beer and wine]. I suppose this would make The Wire's Jimmy McNulty's dismissing of Bushmills as "Protestant Whiskey" somewhat tautological (he prefers Jameson). Of course, legend does tell us that St. Patrick himself introduced the art of distilling to the Irish in the fifth century. But I digress.)

What's my point, you ask? Umm, I'm not sure I really have one, unless it's that with respect to the enjoyment of beverages, perhaps confessional Protestants are closer to Rome than they are to Saddleback after all. Not exactly a giant leap toward ecumenism or anything, but it's a start.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Big Apple Versus The Growers of Big Apples

Always the provocateur, Darryl Hart has written an interesting piece for Front Porch Republic titled "If Cooking Slowly and Growing Organically are In, Why Is Rural Ministry Out?" In it, Hart highlights the irony that amid all our praise of Slow Food and organic food production, our attitude toward ministry is one area in which we are still unabashed city folk.

Signs are not encour-aging ... that the growing concern among evangelical Protestants about the environment is having any effect on their church’s estimation of the people who work on farms and live near them. A recent story in Christianity Today on Tim Keller, a popular Presbyterian pastor in New York City, suggests that for all the desires that evangelicals have to be cutting edge and socially aware, a ministry accessible to the rhythms of farming and local communities does not qualify as hip. The story fawns over Keller for his ability to carve out a multiple-congregation structure in the Big Apple, for a theology of the city that says cites are where redemption happens, and for the model of ministry he exhibits to a crop of younger pastors who aspire to make an impact.

According to the news story, “New York attracts the best and the most ambitious.” Keller senses this and ministers accordingly. He told the reporter, “Suppose you are the best violist in Tupelo, Mississippi. You go to Manhattan, and when you get out of the subway, you hear a beggar playing, and he’s better than you are.” One of Keller’s former colleagues puts Keller’s understanding of ministering in the city this way: “Paul had this sense of, I really should go talk to Caesar. He’s not above caring for Onesimus the slave, but somebody should go to talk to Caesar. When you go to New York, that’s what you’re doing. Somebody should talk to the editorial committee of The New York Times; somebody should talk to Barnard, to Columbia. Somebody should talk to Wall Street.”
(No offense intended to the violinists of Tupelo, I'm sure. I mean, you're from Mississippi, for crying out loud! Surely you didn't expect to best the Big Apple's beggars, didja? Know your place, is what I'm saying.)

Perhaps lurking behind this infatuation with The City (yes, I capitalized it on purpose), Hart suggests, is the desire to "elevate one's status by hobnobbing with the influential" coupled with a "born-again infatuation with celebrity." Then, when you factor in evangelicalism's absolute fear of the ordinary, you've got a perfect recipe (ahem) for the kind of elitism that sees the inexperience of young ministers as disqualifying them for urban church planting while not standing in the way of their ministering to simple farm folk (at least until they graduate from fly-over country to the corridors of power).

Evangelicals are disposed to understand grace and faith in extraordinary categories and so overlook stories of ordinary believers, routine piety, and even rural congregations as insignficant. Discontent with the average and routine aspects of natural life and of grace appears to breed a similar dissatisfaction with humble ministries in places of little interest to the editors of the Times.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: The appreciation for the ordinary that amillennialism produces is as difficult to reconcile with postmillennial transformationism as faith is with sight, and as the cross is with glory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Of Lunas and Lunatics

The first lecture in Exile Presbyterian Church's series on G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy can be downloaded here.


Monday, July 20, 2009

On Tooting One's Own Horn

(Just an aside, but who else's horn would one toot?)

As the discussion in the previous thread turned to the issue of boasting, I was reminded of an old post that I thought I'd put up again (which, incidentally, was fleshed out to become a chapter in my book).


The very idea of "boasting" would appear utterly inconsistent with the Pauline doctrines of grace were it not for the fact that Paul himself did it all the time. But in order for boasting to be legitimate, some qualifications are in order. As Walter Sobchak has reminded us, "This is not 'Nam, there are rules...."

First, it is not permissible to boast in the fact that we have done what we were told. Paul says in I Corinthians 9:16 that he cannot boast in preaching the gospel since he has been commanded by Jesus to do so.

Secondly, though, it appears that boasting is an option if we are going above and beyond the call of duty. Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating the Pharisaical practice of inventing laws, fulfilling them, and then bragging about it ("I fast twice a week"). By going "above and beyond the call of duty" I'm referring to what Paul did, namely, denying ourselves the enjoyment of things that are perfectly permissible and voluntarily limiting our rights to benefits to which we are actually entitled (specifically for Paul these benefits included meat, marriage, and money, I Cor. 9:4-6).

This notion could have drastic consequences for American Christians, not the least of which is the distinct possibility that all those passages about suffering may actually apply to us (who says we Reformed ministers never give application?).

In the minds of many believers today, until the antichrist implants microchips into our foreheads and forces us to worship a statue or have our heads chopped off, "suffering" is nothing more than a noble theory that people in heathen lands have to deal with (plus, we'll all be raptured before any of that bad stuff happens anyway).

But could it be that carrying our crosses in more civilized lands like ours may mean that we cease to think in terms of our "rights" and what we're entitled to? It seems to me that the One who told us to carry our crosses had an inalienable right not to be nailed to one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm Protestant, Therefore I Shop?

In his post entitled “Ecclesial Consumerism vs. Ecclesial Unity,” Covenant-Seminary-graduate-turned-Catholic Bryan Cross writes:
One is an ecclesial consumerist if one's decision regarding which "church"
to attend is based on anything other than this question: Which institution is
the one founded by the incarnate Christ?
While I appreciate Cross’s attack upon ecclesial consumerism as well as the humble and irenic manner by which he argues his position, I must question, from the perspective of my own experience, the simplistic and reductionistic nature of this statement.

For my own part, one of the things I appreciate about Reformed ecclesiology in general (as well as my own church’s worship in particular, if I may toot my own horn) is the very fact that that we refuse to give people what they want, and instead insist on giving them what they need, even if this results in a lesser degree of “success” as defined by American evangelical criteria. In other words, there are certain things that I, individually speaking, would want in a church, such as an elaborate children’s program, professional-sounding music, and messages that tickle my (fallen) sensibilities as well as funny bone.

You know, like Mark Driscoll does.

But despite the pressure to grow in terms of both nickels and noses, faithful Reformed churches have deliberately and decidedly determined not to give ecclesial consumerists what they want. Do we claim to be the church that Jesus founded? Not exactly. But have we therefore fallen prey to the consumerism that characterizes churches like Saddleback or Mars Hill?

Not by a long shot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dual Citizens Reviewed by Chris Donato

Chris Donato, senior associate editor of Tabetalk, has just begun a series of posts reviewing my book, Dual Citizens, on his blog, Growing Grace-full.

Check it out.

Oh, and while you're at it, order the book....

Pierced by a Freeway

Speaking of sacramental worldviews, perhaps no one does a better job of beholding nature through the lens of spiritual reality that Bono himself. In the song "Heartland" from 1988's Rattle and Hum, he sings about the Mississippi River using the metaphor of a woman, and then goes on to sing:

She feels like water in my hand;
Freeway, like a river, cuts through this land
Into the side of love, like a burning spear.

Just like Rich Mullins refers to an open road as "a woman made from a rib cut from the sides of these mountiains, these great sleeping Adams," so Bono sees Route 66 as cutting through America like the spear that pierced the Savior's side, out of which a river of blood and water flowed.

I'll have what he's having....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Lonely Mountains, Sleeping Adams, Dancing Angels, and the Color Green

I had a great conversation over cigars and stout with my good pal Armando on Wednesday, and we were discussing the way men like Chesterton, Bono, Rich Mullins, C.S. Lewis, and others wrote about God's involvement in the world (I have been told by my Catholic friends that these men have a "sacramental worldview," which I sort of understand, but not really). Anyway, they bring to the table a kind of richness and appreciation of God's immanence that cannot but stir one's heart, especially when you're just not used to that sort of thing.

I have written here before of Chesterton's view that apple blossoms produce apples not from the mere laws of nature but through magic, and that rivers flow downstream because they're enchanted, so I'll not repeat that stuff again. But consider these words of the late Rich Mullins from "The Color Green":

And the moon is a sliver of silver
Like a shaving that fell on the floor
Of a Carpenter's shop.
And every house must have its Builder;
And I awoke in the house of God.

Where the windows are mornings and evenings,
Sretched from the sun, across the sky,
North to south.
And on my way to early meeting
I heard the rocks crying out,
I heard the rocks crying out:

"Be praised for all your tenderness
By these works of Your hands!
Songs that rise, and rains that fall
To bless and bring to life your land!
Look down upon this winter wheat
And be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky, and the color green
That fills these fields with praise!"
Elsewhere Mullins fuses heavenly imagery with that of earth thusly:

And the work trucks come running
With their bellies full of coal,
And their big wheels humming
Down this road that lies open
Like the soul of the woman
Who hid the spies who were looking
For the land of the milk and the honey.

And this road, she is a woman;
She was made from a rib
Cut from the sides of these mounains,
O these great sleeping Adams who are
Lonely, even here in paradise;
Lonely for somebody to kiss them.
(If by God's grace I ever pen lines even remotely comparable to these, I will die a happy man.)

Sometimes I wonder what a man like Rich Mullins saw when he closed his eyes and meditated upon God, and the beauty and fieceness of his majesty. Whether he's singing about "angels dancing on Jacob's stairs" as "the moon moves past Nebraska, spilling laughter on those cold Dakota hills," or how God "takes by its corners this whole world and shakes us bored, and shakes us free," there was a depth (a simple depth actually, if you'll forgive the oxymoron) to his faith that I, for one, am trying to recover in my own life.

It is my conviction that, whether through a sacramental wordview or, even better, by means of a two-kingdoms theology whereby earth is legitimized, the greater our love is for this world, the greater will be our love for the God who made it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Abraham's True Sons, Alexandria's True Bishops

The other day I was directed to a fascinating discussion on the Puritan Board (which I've subsequently joined) on the topic of Sola Scriptura. The thread was started because one of the members was being challenged by a friend who had been investigating Catholic and Orthodox theology and began challenging him about whether the Bible and the early church fathers teach that Scripture is the believer's sole authority on matters of doctrine and practice.

Now, as I read the various responses (some characterized by heat, others by light), I did notice a fair bit of straw-man argumentation. But fallacies aside, there were also a lot of quotes from church fathers that seem to indicate that true apostolic succession is what Protestants say it is, namely, a succession primarily of doctrine, with the issue of physical, laying-on-of-hands succession being a matter of historical coincidence and nothing more. Consider this quote from Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389):

Thus, and for these reasons, by the vote of the whole people, not in the evil fashion which has since prevailed, nor by means of bloodshed and oppression, but in an apostolic and spiritual manner, he is led up to the throne of Saint Mark, to succeed him in piety, no less than in office; in the latter indeed at a great distance from him, in the former, which is the genuine right of succession, following him closely. For unity in doctrine deserves unity in office; and a rival teacher sets up a rival throne; the one is a successor in reality, the other but in name. For it is not the intruder, but he whose rights are intruded upon, who is the successor, not the lawbreaker, but the lawfully appointed, not the man of contrary opinions, but the man of the same faith; if this is not what we mean by successor, he succeeds in the same sense as disease to health, darkness to light, storm to calm, and frenzy to sound sense. NPNF2: Vol. VII, Oration XXI - On the Great Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, §8.
Gregory seems to be saying that "the genuine right of succession" is rooted in a bishop's piety, without which he, though enjoying literal apostolic succession, is "only a successor in name." One is reminded of the argument both of Jesus and Paul that Abraham's true succession of children is traced not through physical lineage but through something not quite as visible, but nonetheless ar more important, namely faith.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Dual Citizens Out Soon

I got some good news from Ligonier today: Dual Citizens has been sent to the printer, with 4000 copies to be available soon (meaning that if you each buy a box-full or two, we can send this baby to a second printing in a couple months!).

One professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando will be using it as a text for one of his classes, which means a bunch of seminary students will be forced to buy it whether they want to or not, which is fine with me.

I'll keep you posted as I find out more. And remember, it's available for preorder from Amazon, CBD, Ligonier, and wherever else fine books are sold.
So go order one already....