Automatically redirecting to new location....
Friday, May 16, 2003
Thanks to Emeth's hard work, this blog is moving here. In a little while, Emeth will add an automatic redirect to this blog, but for now you'll have to click the link yourselves.
Unfortunately, with the new blog I will have lost all your old comments, though I've copied the most recent ones over to the new blog. John John 12:03 PM 94464602 Monday, May 12, 2003 I've recently been reading The Catholicity of the Reformation, edited by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson. The book is a collection of essays, all but one from Lutheran authors, demonstrating that the intention of the early Reformers wasn't to create a new kind of Christianity but rather was to reform and renew in keeping with the historic catholic (note the lowercase c) Christian tradition.
On Saturday, I read David S. Yeago's essay, "The Catholic Luther." Yeago, himself a Lutheran, offers an interesting approach to Luther's story.
The traditional Luther-story goes like this: Luther was a young priest with a very troubled conscience, which nothing in the Catholicism of his day could help because it kept pointing him to his works. Then he had the famous Tower Experience in which he discovered justification by faith alone. After that, he got into controversy, first with regard to indulgences and then with regard to justification itself.
More recently, scholars have argued (convincingly, says Yeago) that the Tower Experience happened in 1518, which is to say that it happened after the 95 theses (which don't talk about justification by faith alone) and the beginning of the indulgence controversy.
Yeago agrees that the Tower Experience did take place in 1518. But his read of Luther's history up to and including that point is quite different from either of those other interpretations.
If we look at his earlier writings (as opposed to his reflections twenty-five to thirty years later), we don't find Luther wrestling with a troubled conscience or asking how he can find a gracious God. Rather, we find him wrestling with the question of idolatry and how we can find the true God.
The problem, says Luther and much of the catholic tradition at the time, is that people want a god who benefits them. They love God for his gifts and not for himself, which, they say, is a form of idolatry ("I worship the God who makes me feel good").
So then how can you know that you're worshipping the true God (who can't be used) instead of this idol of your own imagination? Luther's response is the theology of the cross: the true God comes to you in sufferings — the sufferings of Christ but also our own sufferings — such that we are left clinging to him even when he doesn't seem to benefit us at all. In fact, if we're clinging to him even though it appears to be his intention to damn us (and we should be willing to be damned if only we have the true God, he says), then we know that we're not worshipping an idol.
Yeago agrees that Luther did talk about uncertainty of salvation during this point, but Luther didn't see it as a problem. In fact, Yeago says,
It should be clear that this strategy utterly excludes the sort of confident assurance of God's favor that Luther later came to teach; on the contrary, for the early theologia crucis our uncertainty of salvation plays an important role in weaning us from self-interested piety: we must learn to cling to God even though it seems most likely he will damn us (p. 23).There is a marked difference between this early Luther of the "theology of the cross," whose view leads to and embraces a lack of assurance of salvation, and the later Luther, who proclaims assurance. What made the difference? In 1518, Yeago says, Luther began to study sacramental theology.
To the question "What is the sacrament good for, anyway?" Luther finally responds: the concrete, external, public sacramental act in the church is the concrete, external, public act of Jesus Chrsit in the church. When we come to the sacrament, we run into Jesus Christ: his word, his act, his authority. The question with which every participant in the sacraments is confronted, therefore, is simply this: Is Jesus Christ telling the truth here? Can he do what he promises? Can we count on what he says? (pp. 25-26).Luther's basic question remains the same: How can I find the true God, as opposed to idols of my own imagination? But the answer changes. His earlier answer appears to have been this: "the one who I am to adore and in whom I am to put my trust is precisely the one whom all experience says is bent on destroying me" (p. 27). His new answer would have been different:
"The true possesor of deity is the one whom I encounter here — in the particular flesh of Jesus Christ and in the concrete sacramental sign." It is the particularity and concreteness of God's presence that now bear the brunt of the task of foreclosing idolatry; the true God, who by definition cannot be used, is the God who makes himself available as he chooses, here and not there, in the flesh born of Mary and the specificity of his church's sacramental practice, not in the groves and high places consecrated by our religious speculation and self-interest (p. 27).The whole theology of the cross changes:
[I]n Luther's early "theology of the cross," God hides his saving presence in the torment he visits on his elect; in the mature theology, the gracious hiddenness of God is primarily a matter of his lowliness, his kenosis ni the incarnate Son, in his chosen signs, and in his saints. The tribulations of the faithful are no longer identical with the grace that saves them, although they drive them to seek that grace and are the veil under which it is hidden from the proud and mighty of this world (p. 28).Yeago's thesis seems quite radical: far from being driven by his troubled conscience to find a new solution for his sins which meant that he had to break from the version of Christianity in which he lived, Luther originally thought that a troubled conscience was a good thing ("theology of the cross") but then began to study the historic, catholic tradition of sacramental theology and adjusted his thinking so that he now proclaimed the certainty of forgiveness in Christ, a forgiveness received only by faith ("Does Jesus Christ mean what he says?").
Yeago's essay is brief (you'll find a still briefer, earlier version of it here) and it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. He admits that in the short compass of this essay (originally a speech) he can only assert, though he plans to offer a more extended argument for this reading of Luther's history in the future. As he says, "I will, so to speak, describe the shoe; readers may let Luther wear it if they find that it fits him" (p. 13).
Anyone else read this essay? Have any of the other Luther scholars responded to it? Has it caught on in Luther scholarship? Is Yeago coming out with his extended argument anytime soon? At any rate, it's certainly an interesting and thought-provoking article. John John 11:26 AM 94216779 Monday, May 05, 2003 The de-Garvering begins! Welcome back, Brian and Mark! And if you guys are back, can Joel be far behind?
Mind you, even though his last name became the verb meaning "to quit blogging," Joel hasn't really quit himself. He's developed a new art form: microblogging. He's blogging one word at a time. John John 9:39 AM 93808264 Friday, May 02, 2003 A few weeks ago, I bought a new computer. I had planned to add an extra 256 RAM, but it turned out that the RAM they had in stock didn't work on my computer. No problem. They ordered some more that would work, and on Tuesday they installed it.
Yesterday evening, my computer kept freezing. I had to shut the thing down and start it again, and then it would work fine ... for a while. (By the way, with the new computers which have a software-generated shutdown, you can't turn off your computer by simply pressing the on switch. But if you hold that switch for ten seconds it will shut off your computer.)
Early this afternoon, I ran my Norton Disk Doctor program to see if it could find and solve the problem. All of a sudden, I had a blank screen with a message at the top: "Operating System Not Found." Yike!
I tried this and that, but there wasn't a whole lot of this-ing and that-ing I could really try. I had no operating system, and you can't do much without one. And "You can't do much" includes "You can't edit or print or access the sermons you just wrote."
I called the store and the tech guy told me he wasn't busy, so I brought him the computer. Less than an hour ago and about two and half hours after drop-off, he called me. My computer is up and running. In fact, he's even been able to solve another glitch I had which he hadn't been able to solve the other day when they installed my RAM.
What caused the computer to tell me my operating system had taken a stroll? Um ... the new 256 RAM that was supposed to have worked on this computer. It's a funny thing about RAM: Sometimes it'll work for a while (say, from Tuesday till Friday) and then ... kablooey. So now I have my computer back and running, and the tech guy is on a quest for the perfect RAM for me.
In other news (completely unrelated, except that I had to have my computer back and running in order to find it), check out Jeff Meyers's latest blog-entry on Augustine's style of preaching. I've managed to get a chuckle out of my congregation at times and last Sunday I got an "Amen" in the afternoon, but Reformed congregations are a lot quieter than Augustine's, it seems! John John 5:46 PM 93680941 Wednesday, April 30, 2003 After seeing this rant by a frustrated Canon Press editor (thanks for pointing it out, Lucy!), I've decided to add Jared & Mackenzie's blog to my list. John John 5:36 PM 93563866 Tuesday, April 29, 2003 Tonight, after Tim and I went out for supper, I headed off to the Grande Prairie Regional College, where, after an hour or so of hanging around and one quick rehearsal, we sang at the Encana Grande Prairie Music Festival. "We" here is Jubilate, the six-member group I've been singing with since about the middle of March. We sang two madrigals (words by Michelangelo, music by Jacob Arcadelt) and John Rutter's "A Gaelic Blessing."
I was pretty nervous about the concert (my gut is still in a knot), especially since (as I mentioned in my previous post) the concert was being adjudicated and the adjudicator had given out very few gold stars earlier in the week. In the middle of the first song, I heard and felt my voice break slightly, but no one else noticed, and, in spite of the fact that I was trembling a bit with nerves and adreniline, people said we all looked quite comfortable.
The adjudicator told us that hearing us made her homesick, since she sings with a small ensemble herself and loves renaissance and baroque music. All week, she'd been hammering groups on their dynamics: their louds weren't loud enough and their softs weren't soft enough. But mirable dictu, she didn't say anything about that to us, which means we must have remembered not to bellow through the pianissimo parts. She had us work on a couple of things, but complemented us on our phrasing and blend, and (though I should blush to relate it) she also complemented "Mr. Bass" on his low E.
I was thinking of going for a walk tonight, but that's off. Instead, I'll practice my madrigals for the upcoming Music Festival on Tuesday, where we're going to be adjudicated, which means I have to learn to sing forward in the next couple of days or we're in trouble. And then I'm going to return to the fun of James Blaylock's The Disappearing Dwarf, early Blaylock to be sure, but still enjoyable. John John 10:27 PM 93330066 Last night, I finished reading Philip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics. It's a very good book in many ways, in spite of the significant differences between Lee's theological and political stance and my own.
Lee's goal is to reveal the gnosticism which lurks in much Protestant thought, but it seems to me that there's more than a little gnosticism in his own thinking. For instance, it doesn't seem that Lee believes in a historical fall; he speaks also about those who have "literalized and thereby gnosticized" the "biblical images" such as the Atonement (p. 107). He also indicates that he believes that Scripture, being the words of men, contains errors (p. 219). All the way through the book, I have penciled in question marks, x-es, and even a few comments.
And yet, as I say, in spite of those significant differences between Lee's view and my own, I appreciated a lot of what Lee says. For instance, he argues that much modern feminism is gnostic in that it attempts to deny the significance of created sexuality. He defends ordinary Christian life as opposed to the spiritual flights of the gnostic elite. He upholds the importance of the church and the sacraments, as well.
Lee, following the early Reformers, argues passionately for weekly communion. He cites Calvin:
All this mass of ceremonies being abandoned, the sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the Church very frequently, at least once a week.... Thus we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms (Institutes IV.17.43-44, emphasis Lee's, though I've modified the punctuation).Later in the book, Lee writes something worth pondering:
The eucharistic feast must be restored to its rightful place if the churches of the Reformation are to be reformed. The account given in the Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that teaching, preaching, prayer and the breaking of bread were from the beginning the essential elements of Christian worship. Indeed, the Church's teaching, preaching and praying culminate in the breaking of bread with Christ and all his people. "This is the joyful feast of the people of God" where and when the eyes of the faithful are opened and they recognize the Lord. Historically, the simple reenactment of the Last Supper and of the post-Easter meals of Christ and his disciples has been the central act of the Christian community.The book is certainly thought-provoking, though it requires a fair bit of discernment. I'll leave you with this beautiful bit of the French Reformed baptismal liturgy, which Lee quotes. The minister takes the child in his arms and says:
Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, He has fought, He has suffered. For you He entered into the shadows of Gethsemane and the terror of Calvary; for you He uttered the cry "It is finished." For you He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and there for you He intercedes. For you, even though you do not know it, little child, but in this way the Word of the Gospel is made true, "We love Him because He first loved us" (cited p. 254).John John 6:21 PM 93320311 Here's a brand-new article in which N. T. Wright explains the significance of the resurrection, which is not quite what Rev. Gospelman or Mr. Smoothtongue thought. And here, for those who might be interested, is a related news story, which also mentions the lightning bolt incident alluded to in the Ship of Fools article. John John 12:19 AM 93285688 Tuesday, April 22, 2003 Here's a snippet from James Jordan's "Biblical Perspectives on the Arts" (Biblical Educator 4.1). It was written in 1982 and I don't know if Jim would put it the same way today, but I thought it was worth passing on:
Francis Schaeffer, in his fine booklet Art and the Bible (Intervarsity), mentions what he calls the major and the minor themes in Christian art. The minor themes are sin, depravity, ugliness, and the like. The major themes are salvation, righteousness, beauty, and the like. Because Christian fine arts are realistic, they deal with the minor themes, but they show the triumph of the major themes. This need not be true in each and every piece of art, but will be the message of the corpus of an artist's work as a whole....John John 3:55 PM 93074900 Friday, April 18, 2003 During this past week, I have been listening to appropriate music: Bach's St. Matthew's Passion and Arvo Pärt's Passio (short, of course, for Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Johannes: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John).
Today and tomorrow, I'll be listening to John Taverner's Lamentations and Praises, fitting music for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. I realize I quoted these lines last year at this time, but I'll quote them again:
In a grave they laid You,John John 2:51 PM 92858917 Thursday, April 10, 2003 Way back when I started blogging, three of my earliest posts talked about Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy, Blue, White, and Red. Now, at long last, the movies have come out in a DVD box set: Three Colours. Tim spotted them in a store here in Grande Prairie. John John 9:59 AM 92370142 Wednesday, April 09, 2003 Two more quotations from Wright's The Challenge of Jesus:
The mission of the church ... can be summed up in the phrase "reflected glory." It is precisely through engaging in the christological task, focusing on Jesus and allowing our picture of God to be shaped thereby not as a detached intellectual exercise but as the very heart of our worship, our praying, our thinking, our preaching and our living, that we are enabled to reflect that glory. When we see, as Paul says, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and when we discover the length and breadth of what that phrase means, we see and discover this not for our own benefit but so that the glory may shine in us and through us, to bring light and life to the world that still waits in darkness and the shadow of death (pp. 124-125).And toward the end of the book:
But if we are to be kingdom-announcers, modeling the new way of being human, we are also to be crossbearers. This is a strange and dark theme that is also our birthright as followers of Jesus. Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job, reorganizing the world according to some model that we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point. Because Jesus bore the cross uniquely for us, we do not have to purchase forgiveness again; it's been done. But because, as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life over and over again (pp. 188-189).John John 10:15 AM 92301730 Tuesday, April 08, 2003 Barb points out that my article entitled "Reading the Bible" has been published in U-Turn online. I received the hardcopy in the mail last week, but hadn't checked yet to see if it was up on the webpage.
While you're surfing U-Turn, check out Peter Leithart's "The Christian and Literature" (which is part of the intro to his Brightest Heaven of Invention) and Jeff Meyers' "Drinking with Thanksgiving." John John 4:51 PM 92253460 Wednesday, April 02, 2003 I've been reading N. T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus and came across this paragraph on the relationship between Jesus' death and our vocation:
When we speak of "following Christ," it is the crucified Messiah we are talking about. His death was not simply the messy bit that enables our sins to be forgiven but that can then be forgotten. The cross is the surest, truest and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God; the more we learn about the cross in all its historical and theological dimensions, the more we discover about the One in whose image we are made and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known. And when therefore we speak ... of shaping our world, we do not — we dare not — simply treat the cross as the thing that saves us "personally," but which can be left behind when we get on with the job. The task of shaping our world is best understood as the redemptive task of bringing the achievement of the cross to bear on the world, and in that task the methods, as well as the message, must be cross-shaped through and through (pp. 94-95).John John 9:28 PM 91894339 Friday, March 28, 2003 Ever since I read Bruce Mawhinney's Preaching with Freshness at the start of my ministry, I've been following his recommendation and taking (or trying to take) Fridays off. So today I read a bit, did some errands around town, drove out to Sexsmith, fifteen minutes north of here, to peruse the magazines in the Peace River Bible Institute library, drove home and checked out one of the Christian book stores in town (I almost needed a magnifying glass to find the book section!), and then had supper.
Here are a few scattered (but chronological) observations:
* Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's voices blend beautifully and their duets are great music to get the day started.And now I'm off to read some more of N. T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus and Anthony Trollope's delightful Barchester Towers. Good night, all! John John 9:28 PM 91588367 Tuesday, March 25, 2003 While reading through Thomas Oden's Becoming a Minister, I came across this quotation from Martin Luther:
Unless those who are in the office of preacher find joy in him who sent them, they will have much trouble. Our Lord God had to ask Moses as many as six times. He also led me into the office in the same way. Had I known about it beforehand, he would have had to take more pains to get me in. Be that as it may, now that I have begun, I intend to perform the duties of the office with his help. On account of the exceedingly great and heavy cares and worries connected with it, I would not take the whole world to enter upon this work now. On the other hand, when I regard him who called me, I would not take the whole world not to have begun it (Table Talk, LW 54, #113, pp. 12-13).John John 9:56 PM 91395096 Monday, March 24, 2003 This summer, I'm booked to speak at Reformation Covenant Church's annual Family Camp, along with Jim Jordan. The camp runs from June 9-14. It's located on the Oregon coast, which is very convenient, since I have to leave early in order to attend Classis Western Canada 2003 in Salem at the end of the week.
So far, none of the topics have been finalized, though one suggestion was that I would speak about covenant and evangelism. I'm expecting to hear some more in the near future. John John 1:26 PM 91301909 Aha! With the help of Russ, I've managed to fix my blogger problem. The cure? I cut my template and pasted it into a word processor file. Then I selected another template, went in to edit it, and pasted in my old template. It worked! Thanks, Russ! John John 9:51 AM 91290361 Sunday, March 23, 2003 Why, oh why, won't Blogger publish my template? I keep revising it, saving changes, and hitting publish, only to get a blank where an error message would normally appear and a link which, though advertising itself as leading to "more info," leads only to a general troubleshooting page. Nothing I do seems to help. Anyone else having trouble publishing changes to your template? John John 10:05 PM 91264137 Thursday, March 20, 2003 Another quotation from James Jordan's The Sociology of the Church:
The Bible taught the early church how to worship, but in the later Middle Ages, great corruptions set in. The Protestant Reformers were primarily interested in the restoration of worship, rightly perceiving it as the center of the Kingdom. After all, when God called Israel out of Egypt it was not first and foremost to establish a theocratic nation, but to engage in a third-day worship festival. Unfortunately, within a hundred years, the liturgical dreams of the Reformers were mostly in shambles.John John 10:15 AM 91071663 Wednesday, March 19, 2003 Last night, I finished reading James Jordan's The Sociology of the Church, a book I deeply enjoyed. I found Jim's treatments of the nature of conversion and of Pentecostalism and the gift of tongues very helpful and very balanced. The book is quite challenging, and there's a lot in it that I'll need to think through some more, but I highly recommend it.
I may post some more quotations from this book later on. But here, from an essay entitled "God's Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism," is a quotation about the eldership:
Rule in the church is to be by means of footwashing (hospitality) as much as by giving orders (Mark 10:42-45; John 13). Christ rules by being present with us, by being our Host and having us over to His house for dinner, even by being our Servant! The elders, who are to imitate Christ, must do the same (pp. 235-236).John John 10:03 AM 91003284 Tuesday, March 18, 2003 Tim has just published a new essay online: "Paradoxology: Thoughts on the Trinitarian Grounding of Human Faith." I highly recommend it. John John 9:48 PM 90974126 Mark Horne (who isn't blogging) just posted Travis Tamerius's interview with N. T. Wright at Theologia for your reading pleasure. Here are a couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite:
Look at what Paul actually says when he talks about how people become Christians. Look for instance at 1 Thessalonians where he says quite a lot about it without ever using the word justify or any of its cognates. He talks about the gospel coming to you in the power of the Spirit. You accepted that word not as the word of man but as what it really is, the word of God that is at work in you believers. It's quite clear what Paul is talking about, that he comes into town announcing that Jesus is Lord, as a royal herald. He is saying that the crucified Jesus is the Lord of the world. And this is not, "Here is a way of salvation. You might like to apply it to yourself." It's not, "Here is a new way of being religious and you might enjoy it." This is really an imperial summons: "On your knees!" Nobody ever went into a Roman town and said, "Caesar is lord and you might like to have this experience of acknowledging him as lord if that suits you." They said, "Caesar is Lord, get on your knees and we want the tax right now."(Note: Wright does not deny that believers to go to heaven when we die, though he stresses that our final goal isn't heaven but the resurrection body. As well, his point here is that the first major discussion of justification has to do with table fellowship here on earth and not, there in Galatians 2, with how to go to heaven.) John John 8:33 AM 90930549 Thursday, March 13, 2003 My mother tells me that my previous blog entry is getting old, and she's right. So here's an update.
I wasn't able to move into my new home on the Saturday as I'd hoped and so I stayed the weekend at my deacon's house. On that Monday, March 3, while I still had access to the computer, I finished proofreading Ralph Smith's book on the covenant and the Trinity (forthcoming from Canon Press). I highly recommend the book, by the way. It contains a very helpful critique of Meredith Kline's understanding of the covenant.
As soon as I'd fired off the list of typos to Doug Jones, I started packing all the stuff I had at Leo's place. I arrived here in the early evening, went out for supper, and then spent my first night in my own home.
For most of the next week, a large part of my time was spent taking books out of boxes and putting them on the shelves which line the walls of my basement study. It's the first time I've seen all my fiction and all my non-fiction together in one place. Most of my fiction stayed in boxes (or was still at my parents' place) during my four years in Lethbridge.
As for my own reading now, I've just finished Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer, which is a collection of all of his short stories starring John, who travels the Appalachians with his silver-stringed guitar, encountering and overcoming evil of all sorts (recommended by Jim Jordan), as well as Gene Wolfe's wonderfully titled The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (no, that's not a typo: the first story in the book is entitled "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories"). I'm also two-thirds of the way through Jim's The Sociology of the Church and loving it.
This past Monday, I also joined a singing group. It's a small group — about eight people — and they sing what, I suppose, gets roughly categorized as "classical music," though it ranges from Renaissance madrigals (two of which I need to learn this week) to John Rutter's "A Gaelic Blessing." In case you're wondering, I'm one of the two basses.
This week I also taught a catechism class, attended the Grande Prairie Regional College's InterVarsity meeting (to which I've unofficially been appointed a "resource person"), and led a men's Bible study, and tonight we'll be having a meeting of the church council. On Monday, my phone lines were installed and shortly thereafter I had about 300 e-mails in my Inbox; now, however, there are only thirty. So I've been fairly busy. Nevertheless, I do hope to do some more blogging in the future. John John 10:22 AM 90658653 Saturday, March 01, 2003 At long last, my new house is finished. For the last several weeks, while my house was being built, I have been living in the basement of my deacon's house (and I deeply appreciate his generosity in allowing me to do so). But on Friday, I took possession of my new house. Alex, Calvin, James, Steve, Tim, Jamie, and Leo all helped move my stuff from my garage into the house. Thanks!
I should be moved in by tonight (or at least by Monday). But the phone company tells me that they won't be able to install my phone lines until ... March 10. So I will be incommunicado for the next few days, I'm afraid. John John 9:46 AM 89960228 Andrew Kuyvenhoven on the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 16:
Most people are sooner inclined to say that Jesus took the fear out of dying than to confess that he puts us to death while we are living. We don't mind "dying in the Lord," when the time comes, but we would like to continue having our own life as long as we're here (103).John John 9:38 AM 89959918 Monday, February 24, 2003 In connection with my reading of Genesis, I've also been reading James Jordan's Primeval Saints. Here's a quotation relating to the Tower of Babel:
Ever since this time sinful human beings have tended to view people who speak other languages as inferior, or even as only talking animals. The word "barbarian" comes from the way other languages sound in our ears: "bar bar," almost like the barking of dogs. European conquerors treated Africans and Asians as barbarians, seldom bothering to learn their very rich and complex languages, despising the inescapable manifestation of the image of God in these cultures.John John 7:47 PM 89688245 I've been reading through Genesis for the last few days, and on Saturday I noticed something in Genesis 9 that I hadn't spotted before.
We tend to think that God placed the rainbow in the cloud primarily to remind us that God won't destroy the world with a flood — and, of course, that's part of the function of the rainbow, which is why God tells Noah about the rainbow. But the rainbow has that man-comforting function because God says that He will look on the rainbow and remember the covenant (Gen. 9:16). The rainbow functions primarily, then, as a memorial for God so that when He sees it He will remember His promises and His people. In fact, that's the purpose of many of the memorials in Scripture: they are God-appointed reminders to God of His covenant.
All of that was familiar to me already. But what I hadn't noticed before was that, right after speaking about how He will see the rainbow and remember His covenant, God then says that the rainbow is "the sign of the covenant" (Gen. 9:17).
In our Reformed sacramental theology, we speak of baptism and the Lord's Supper as "signs" (and "seals"), language we have learned from Scripture. But as we think about the sacraments as "signs," we ought to take into account what Scripture means when it speaks of something as a "sign of the covenant." And here in Genesis 9, the "sign of the covenant," while it does have a man-ward function, serves primarily to remind God of His faithfulness to His covenant.
In this connection, we might think also of the signs God places on men's foreheads in Ezekiel and Revelation. They are put there so that God will remember these people in grace and so that the people will not be destroyed in God's judgment.
So too, then, with the sacraments. Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as "signs" of the covenant, identify us to God as His people so that He maintains His covenant faithfulness to us. That isn't their only function, of course, but it does appear to be one of their primary functions.
Perhaps this is old news to you (especially if your name is Mark Horne), but I can't recall seeing much discussion along these lines — okay, I can't remember any — in standard Reformed treatments of the sacraments. John John 9:43 AM 89654147 Thursday, February 20, 2003 This morning, I sifted through my "Blogs I Read" list and shook a few of them into another category: "Fellow Church Members." All the bloggers in this category are members of Covenant Reformed Church here in Grande Prairie. Now if we could just get a church website up with some pictures.... John John 9:41 AM 89443322 Saturday, February 08, 2003 On Friday night, my new landlords and I watched Changing Lanes. I'd seen it once before and enjoyed it, but I had thought some elements were implausible. This time, however, some of the things that had appeared to me (and, I gather, to some reviewers) to be weaknesses didn't look as weak as I had thought.
I recall hearing that Gattaca got some bad reviews because the reviewers thought the characters (indeed, all the people) seemed a bit stiff and stand-offish. But that, of course, was the point. In the future as portrayed by Gattaca people would be that way.
So, too, with Changing Lanes: What some people saw as weaknesses were there for a reason. Here's the first and perhaps biggest implausibility to come to mind: All the events in the movie take place on one day. The two characters meet and carry out their vendetta against each other and the whole thing is over by suppertime.
But it seems to me that the implausibility is designed to make a point and the point has to do with which day it is. We hear it fairly early in the movie: "It's Friday. Good Friday," we're told (to which the Ben Affleck character responds, "What's so good about it?"). Later, in a crucial scene in the movie, we're shown a Good Friday celebration in a Roman Catholic church ("The wood of the cross on which was slain the Saviour of the world"). Watch for an icon hanging in a closet in one scene, not to mention other times when the camera lingers on a cross.
The movie is, quite simply, about reconciliation, the kind which comes about only when one lays down one's rights, accepts suffering without retaliation, and repays evil with good — all of which has everything to do with Good Friday. On first viewing, I was moved by the ending and intrigued by the pervasive Christianity but also disturbed by a few elements. On this second viewing, while I still see some flaws in the ending, I understand it better and my appreciation for the whole has grown. John John 8:55 PM 88784858 As Jessie pointed out to me recently, I haven't blogged since my installation. That Friday night was pretty rough, but the flu seemed to abate by the next Saturday, only to recur again Monday night. It seems to be gone now. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement!
I felt pretty good on Sunday. I preached my inaugural sermon in the morning: Philippians 1:1-2, which is not only a reminder of the role of ministers ("slaves of Christ Jesus") and the status of all the members of the church ("saints in Christ") but also the kick-off to a series on Philippians.
The Bishop preached in the afternoon. His sermon on Joshua 4 was entitled "My Trip to the Holy Land." All kinds of people travel to Israel to be baptized in the Jordan. But we have been baptized in the Jordan. Just as Israel did, we too have left Egypt through the Red Sea and entered the Promised Land by passing through the Jordan because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and we have been baptized into Him.
For now, I'm still living in the basement of the deacon's house. On Monday they should start laying the carpet in my new house (upstairs and down, I hope). So it's possible that I'll be in there in a couple of weeks ... or so. John John 8:24 PM 88783774 Friday, January 31, 2003 This evening, I was installed as the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Bill led the service and preached on Isaiah 62:1-7 ("The Lord Enlists Restless Preachers for Zion's Glory"). The congregation sang exuberantly, I gave the benediction, and several other churches passed on greetings and wished the congregation and me the Lord's blessing.
While the congregation was still enjoying fellowship (and yes, sometimes fellowship does mean food and there's nothing wrong with that), I went home early. It appears that I've come down with the flu — not so pleasant for this weekend in particular. I hope I'm feeling well enough to preach my inaugural sermon on Sunday morning. But I trust that this affliction, too, will be for my profit. At the very least, it's a helpful reminder at the outset of my ministry here that God's grace is sufficient for me and that my help is in the name of YHWH who made heaven and earth. John John 8:39 PM 88363072 Thursday, January 23, 2003 A hearty welcome to the world of blogging to B. J. Kennedy, the Angliterian from Ruston, Louisiana. John John 11:43 PM 87946095 Wednesday, January 22, 2003 The Lord has been gracious to me. On Saturday, when I checked the weather report, they were predicting snow all week for the whole of Alberta. On Monday, as we prepared to load up the truck and set out, the report had changed: flurries for southern Alberta, snow in central Alberta — and, by Tuesday, just in time for the move, clear and sunny from Edmonton north to Grande Prairie.
The roads were good most of the way, except for some blowing snow and a few snow-covered patches north of Edmonton. The transmission on the moving truck was going — no reverse and difficulty getting into third and fourth gear — but the truck arrived safely in Grande Prairie yesterday afternoon, and now all my stuff is stored in the garage and laundry room of my (future) house. I was able to spend a night with my parents in Red Deer, and I've now arrived safely here in Grande Prairie as well.
As I left Lethbridge, somewhat frightened by reports of bad roads, I listened to His Majesty's Clerkes singing "O Praise the Lord of Heaven" by William Billings and I remembered who my God is:
He sends out His command to the earth;John John 12:15 PM 87857275 Sunday, January 19, 2003 After a week of packing which left my bedroom, my living room, and especially my study piled with boxes, I'm now ready to move. I'm very grateful for all who helped by supplying boxes, taping the boxes together, and even loading the boxes.
Four young men from Grande Prairie — Alex, Calvin, Steve, and Darren (who alone doesn't have a blog) — arrived on Friday evening. They helped me finish packing on Saturday and on Monday — tomorrow! — they'll load up the U-Haul and head for Grande Prairie, nine and a half hours northwest.
The weather, however, doesn't look particularly good. Grande Prairie got about eight inches of snow already this weekend, and they predict another two to four inches on Monday and periods of snow the rest of the week. (Here's a link to the Alberta weather forecast so you can follow my treacherous route from Lethbridge through Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton to Grande Prairie.) I deeply appreciate your prayers for this trip.
After I arrive in Grande Prairie, I'll leave my stuff in storage until my house is finished, which may be anywhere from two weeks to a month, during which time I'll live with Leo and Yolanda Wattel (Leo is the deacon at Covenant Reformed).
My installation as the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church will be on January 31. The former pastor, Bishop Bill, will lead the service and preach. I'll preach my inaugural sermon on February 2.
It's hard to leave Lethbridge, but I'm looking forward to getting settled in Grande Prairie and taking up my work there. John John 8:10 PM 87709765 Wednesday, January 15, 2003 At long last, I'm home again.
On January 2, I left Lethbridge and drove to Calgary, accompanied by my colleague and friend, Theo Lodder, pastor of the Canadian Reformed Church in Taber. He was catching a 6:30 AM flight to St. Louis and I a 6:40 flight to Texarkana, Arkansas.
I arrived in Texarkana on Friday afternoon and was picked up by Steve Ramsey, one of the elders of the CRE church there, who took me to the home of Tom and Dixie Lincoln (Tom is another elder). On Saturday, I went for a walk by the lake with Dixie and the Lincoln's daughter Lydia, and then Steve took me on a tour of Texarkana. For lunch, we ate Texarkana's best barbeque (Big Jake's). Eventually we ended up at the home of another elder, Ben House, where we had catfish for supper and a good talk afterwards. Ben gave me a copy of his book of poems, Dirt Roads and Confederates.
On Sunday, I gave a talk on the social implications of the Trinity during the adult Sunday School hour, borrowing extensively from Ralph Allan Smith and Jeff Meyers ("I'm speaking, not as an expert, but as an enthusiast," I said). I preached on Philippians 2:1-4. In the afternoon, there was a meeting at the Lincoln's house for people who wanted to understand more about the Auburn Avenue controversy. Tom tells me that I started talking at about 9:30 that Sunday morning and finished at 11:30 that night. No wonder I had a bit of a sore throat!
On Monday, Jan. 6, Tom drove me down to Monroe, Louisiana, and dropped me off at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church, where I was booked to speak on Tuesday. But plans change. Steve Schlissel was supposed to speak first, with a response by R. C. Sproul, Jr., but R. C. had been delayed due to bad weather.
So, after the four presenters (Schlissel, Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, and I) and the three respondents who were present (Joey Pipa, Morton Smith, and Carl Robbins) had prayed together for the grace to be able to discuss our differences in a brotherly way and for unity in the truth, I gave the first talk (on "Covenant and Election") and then Carl Robbins responded. Carl was very gracious and his critique of my talks (last year and this year) was helpful. After Carl's talk, all seven of us assembled on the platform. I responded first, and then Carl spoke briefly, and eventually the discussion expanded to include the other men. That was the format for the rest of the conference: presenter, respondent, discussion, along with two question and answer periods.
Doug Wilson opened the second day of the conference with a talk on the distinction between the visible and invisible church, and Morton Smith responded. In the afternoon, Steve Schlissel spoke, largely about the dangers of imposing our theology on Scripture and missing what Scripture itself says, and then R. C. Sproul responded, largely about the need for brotherly love. In the evening, Steve Wilkins spoke about the efficacy of baptism, and Joey Pipa responded. On Wednesday morning, the eight of us had another chance to discuss our differences and a chance to summarize some of what we had been saying in the course of the conference.
The conference itself had several enjoyable moments and several which were highly disappointing. I encourage you to buy the tapes.
The talks, of course, are but a small part of the attraction of any conference. I go to conferences as much for the chance to visit people as to hear lectures. This year I made a lot of new friends and met some old friends, including people with whom I've exchanged e-mail or whose blogs I read. It was great to be able to visit (however briefly) with Robbie McBroom, B. J. Kennedy, Jim Jordan (who introduced me to single malt Glenlivet on Wednesday night: definitely something to sip slowly in small amounts), Duane and Sarah Garner (I hope you're all feeling better soon!), Jon Amos, Jeff Meyers, Tommy Lee, Matt and Sora Colvin, Jessie Bates, Matt Harper (who doesn't want to be drawn into the Reformed blogging world), John Owen Butler, and Barb.
After the conference was over I had a long nap, which, with the help of a couple Tylenols, managed to quell my headache. That evening I spent at the Wilkins' house with Jim Jordan, Jeff Meyers, Doug Wilson, and a few others, where the conversation wasn't limited to the recent conference but spread out to include such things as John Buchan, the Scottish Covenanters, and our evaluation of history ("If I'd been back there, I wouldn't have sided with.... Or would I?").
On Thursday, Robbie drove me out to Ruston, LA. As Jon Amos pointed out, Jeff Black commented recently that if you want to see where the Auburn Avenue stuff is heading, you should check out the website of John Knox PCA. Well, I was a living example of the truth of that statement this last week: I went from a URC in Canada to a CRE in Texarkana to Auburn Avenue, only to end up at John Knox, where I visited with the pastor, Jeff Steel, a friend for whom I'm very grateful.
My hosts, Volney and Betty Pierce, were very gracious. Volney makes a pretty good breakfast, though I can't say that I'm a fan of grits yet. The waffles and bacon and eggs were good, though!
On Sunday I attended a glorious service at John Knox (the liturgical flagship of the PCA). That evening I preached at Auburn Avenue, wearing a robe to do so for the first time in my life. (The robe was borrowed from Rich Lusk: Thanks, Rich!)
On Monday, B. J. — who has a servant's heart — drove me to the Shreveport airport, and I arrived back in Calgary that evening. I drove home to Lethbridge on Tuesday morning. It was snowing lightly, but it was also quite cold, so the snow was very light and powdery. The roads were in decent shape (one lane open, the other snow-covered), but the trucks swirl up so much snow that at times visibility was very poor.
Nevertheless, I'm home again, ready to start packing for my move to Grande Prairie. If you want my new snail-mail address, feel free to write to me and ask. I should be moving on Monday or Tuesday, depending in part on the weather. John John 10:28 AM 87486822