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Thursday, January 31, 2002 In Woody Allen's movie The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, there's a scene in which Allen, accused of a series of burglaries, faces his boss. He's protesting his innocence, sure that someone must be out to frame him.
BOSS: "Do you know what they call people who think that everybody's out to get them?"
ALLEN: "Yeah: perceptive."
I thought about that quotation as I surfed a blog or two recently.... John John 3:37 PM 9248971 Wednesday, January 30, 2002 Several of my friends and acquaintances are fans of the science-fiction and fantasy writer Gene Wolfe. I've been working my way through Wolfe's works, and last night I started what appears to be Wolfe's deepest and most difficult work, The Book of the New Sun, the first volume of which is Shadow and Claw.

I was able to read only the first chapter last night, and I was pretty tired at the time, so I suspect that I'll read that first chapter again tonight. Mind you, in "The Best Introduction to the Mountains," an essay on The Lord of the Rings, Wolfe says,
You are not likely to believe me when I say that I still remember vividly, almost 50 years later, how strictly I disciplined myself with that book, forcing myself to read no more than a single chapter each evening. The catch, my out, the stratagem by which I escaped the bonds of my own law, was that I could read that chapter as many times as I wished; and that I could also return to the chapter I had read the night before, if I chose. There were evenings on which I reread the entire book up the point — The Council of Elrond, let us say — at which I had forced myself to stop.
I suspect that wouldn't be a bad way to read The Book of the New Sun either. Wolfe doesn't always explain what's happening in the book, let alone the significance of the events, and I usually finish a Wolfe story with the sense that there's a lot I haven't caught yet. I'm not going to adopt the Wolfe method this time; instead, I'll read the whole thing straight through. But I may start keeping a Wolfe journal, jotting down some things I've noticed or things I need to think about more. For instance, the story begins shortly after the narrator, Severian, has nearly drowned, which I suspect is a baptismal image, and all the more so since the title of the chapter is "Resurrection and Death." And here's a paragraph worth thinking about:
We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life — they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious form of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.
John John 11:06 AM 9203052 Tuesday, January 29, 2002 Here's a quotation from P. G. Wodehouse's Uneasy Money:
At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.
John John 8:55 AM 9162558 Monday, January 28, 2002 This evening, while I was driving somewhere, I caught part of Tony Dillon-Davis's show "Play It Again" on CKUA Radio. "Play It Again" is a weekly program which features popular music from the '20s to the '50s. Each week, the program focuses on one particular year, and Dillon-Davis talks about the significant events that took place that year, the famous books published then, and things like that. He also lists the number one songs for that year.

What struck me tonight, not for the first time, was how often the same song hit number one. In that era, a song might be covered by any number of artists, and sometimes the same song appeared at number one by one artist for a month or so and then by another artist the next month. That's completely unheard of today. Sometimes artists do cover songs, but they'd never dream of releasing their cover version a month after the original! Only in jazz music, it seems to me, do the standards get performed over and over again, with each artist giving it his own particular twist.

And that leads me to questions for which I don't have answers. What accounts for this phenomenon? It strikes me that something, or even several things, must have changed between then and now. Were the changes in the music itself? in the listeners and their expectations and tastes? in something else? John John 11:51 PM 9152432 Sunday, January 27, 2002 Well, I'm back home again and the vacation is over. The week went by very quickly, but I was able to do a few things I wanted to. I went up to Red Deer, Alberta, about four hours north of here, to visit my parents. I did a little book shopping and a fair bit of reading, which was exactly what I'd wanted to do. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I managed to find a book (online!) which I'd been seeking for years. I also spent some time on Thursday with Jamie Soles, who's been a friend of mine ever since Bible college.

On Friday, I drove up to Edmonton, another hour and a half north, to visit Arlette Zinck, who teaches English at King's University College and who has recently co-edited a book on John Bunyan. I've been friends with Arlette ever since we took a Latin class together back in 1990-1991. I hadn't visited Arlette and her husband Rob for over a year; it's always surprising to see how their children have grown!

We had a good visit, and on Saturday I drove back to Red Deer, though that statement makes it sound easier than it was. It was about 30 below (Celsius) on Saturday, and my car wouldn't start. I had to wait about an hour before the guy from Alberta Motor Association came to give me a boost.

Today I attended church with my parents in the morning, and then drove back to Lethbridge, arriving shortly before the evening service here. Now I'm wrapping up my blog entry (but you knew that already, didn't you?) and then I'm going to get something to eat, make a cup of tea, and sit and read some more of P. G. Wodehouse's Uneasy Money. Goodnight, all! John John 9:49 PM 9113175 Thursday, January 24, 2002
They seek him here; they seek him there;
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel.
My mother has long been a fan of Baroness Orczy's works. Over the years, she's accumulated quite a collection, several of which I've found for her in used bookstores. In fact, she has almost the whole Scarlet Pimpernel series. But she was still missing two volumes: Sir Percy Leads the Band and Mam'zelle Guillotine. If you check AddAll, you'll find the latter for $500 - $1200 or so, which is well beyond anything I can afford.

I'd long dreamed of being able to present a copy of those books to my mother. Last night, the dream came true. I was surfing the web and I thought of checking Google and lo and behold! there they were was in e-text: Mam'zelle Guillotine and Sir Percy Leads the Band. I was delighted, and so was my mother.

By the way, for those who don't know, the Scarlet Pimpernel (Sir Percy Blakeney) is an Englishman who sets out to rescue people from the murderous Revolutionaries in France. He often leaves behind a copy of the poem quoted above or the sign of a small red flower, the scarlet pimpernel. The books are a lot of fun, especially when Sir Percy (who pretends to be an idle, brainless fop) encounters Citizen Chauvelin, Robespierre's agent. But I suspect they also give a fairly accurate representation of the spirit of revolutionary France. John John 8:46 PM 9026591 I first read John Frame's Perspectives on the Word of God: An Introduction to Christian Ethics several years ago, before I went to seminary. Now that I've got a couple of years of the ministry (and a lot more reading and thinking) under my belt, I sometimes think I should go back and re-read some of the books I read in the past.

During this vacation, I took that opportunity and read through Perspectives once more. It's a short book (only 56 pages of text) and it's based on three lectures Frame gave at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so it obviously can't cover the material in any depth. And yet Frame does cover a lot of ground in this little book and does so in a very helpful and readable way.

The first lecture deals with the Word of God itself. The Word of God is not limited to Scripture. God created everything by His Word. His Word is His power, His authority, and His presence. In fact, God's Word is even identified with God Himself and is an object of worship (Pss. 34:3; 56:4, 10, etc.).

The second lecture deals with the media of God's Word, and here Frame makes a very important point:
All of God's word to us is mediated, in the sense that it always reaches us through some creaturely means. This is true even when revelation seems most "direct." For example, when God spoke to the people of Israel gathered around Mt. Sinai, and they heard the divine voice from heaven, even then God's word reached the people through creaturely media. For one thing, God spoke human language. For another, he used the normal earthly atmosphere to transmit the sounds to the eardrums of the people. Further, it was the people's brain cells that interpreted the sounds as words and interpreted the words as God's message. God's word never lacks media when it is spoken to human beings (pp. 19-20).
Frame goes on to discuss three means: events (history, redemptive history, miracles), words (divine voice, prophetic speech, written word, preaching), and persons (human constitution, examples of Christian leaders, God's own presence). One could wish that Frame had also included the sacraments, perhaps as a subcategory ("rites") under "event media."

Frame's point is worth pondering, especially in connection with a trend in Reformed theology which wants to downplay God's mediated work as "sacramentalism" or "sacerdotalism" and which emphasizes instead some kind of "immediate" (unmediated) work of God on the believer's heart. But Scripture speaks of the preaching of the Word as Christ's own voice (Rom. 1:14-15) by which God regenerates (1 Pet. 1:23-25). And many times in Scripture, we hear about the efficacy of baptism and the Lord's Supper. God delights in using means to work in the lives of His people, and as Frame says, He never speaks without using means.

The final lecture in the book surveys the three basic secular approaches to ethics (existential, teleological, and deontological), critiques them, and then proposes a Christian ethic which takes into account the strengths of all three. In our ethics, we must work with God's objective Word as norm, the situation which we are confronting, and the nature of the persons involved. What is the situation? What does God want me to do about it? What changes need to take place in me (him, her) so that I (he, she) may do the right thing?

All in all, a helpful treatment, which whets my appetite for Frame's long-promised but still unpublished Doctrine of the Christian Life. John John 3:14 PM 9017010 Tuesday, January 22, 2002 After all the busy-ness of Christmas and New Year's and the AAPC conference, I'm finally taking a short vacation. I don't have any big plans. I'm spending time at home with my parents, doing some reading, visiting a few friends, doing some more reading.... I arrived here in Red Deer last night. Amazing! They have snow. In Lethbridge, there's snow, too, but only in very shaded spots. The rest is just dry and brown.

My sister came out to Red Deer from Winnipeg for Christmas and left my Christmas gift here with my parents: Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf.
A Christmas gift to me from my sister: Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf!
Heaney is one of my favourite poets. In fact, I'd checked out the poetry section in Chapters on my way here, and thought about picking up a copy of that very book. Good thing I didn't! Thanks, Charlene! John John 9:35 AM 8936923 Thursday, January 17, 2002 Has this ever happened to you? I'm about sixty pages into Doug Wilson's Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Yesterday, I received a copy of New St. Andrews College's newsletter, Scriptorium, and what should I read in the Faculty Updates? "Douglas Wilson, Senior Fellow, is completing a revised and expanded edition of his ground-breaking Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning." Augh! Now I don't know whether to finish reading the copy I've got or not! John John 11:39 PM 8807827 Joel Beeke's The Quest for Full Assurance opens with this paragraph:
Theologians and pastors of post-Reformation churches struggled for theological precision in defining the relationship between personal assurance of faith and saving faith. Their labors produced a rich technical vocabulary that distinguished between assurance of faith and assurance of sense; direct (actus directus) and reflexive (actus reflectus) acts of faith; assurance of the uprightness of faith and of adoption; practical (syllogismus practicus) and mystical (syllogismus mysticus) syllogisms; the principle (habitus) and act (actus) of faith; objective and subjective assurance; assurance of faith, understanding, and hope; discursive and intuitive assurance; immediate and mediate witness in assurance; and the being and well-being of faith.
Steve Schlissel quoted that paragraph at the AAPC Pastors Conference and then put his head in his hands: "Ohhhhhhh..... There's not enough Excedrin in the room!" Why do people have to make assurance so difficult? God speaks, and we believe Him. He promises us salvation and we believe His promise. How hard is that? John John 11:36 PM 8807755 Wednesday, January 16, 2002 Last night I finished reading Iris Murdoch's An Unofficial Rose. It's her sixth novel, and the sixth one I've read. Coincidence? Not at all. I've been trying to read her work in the order it was published. It's something I do with a lot of authors. Am I just weirdly compulsive that way, or do other people do the same thing?

An Unofficial Rose is a complicated story, which is typical for Murdoch. Hugh Peronnet's wife has died after forty years of marriage, and he begins to pursue his old mistress, Emma Sands, for whom he had nearly left his wife once. His son, Randall, dreams of breaking free from his marriage; he has fallen in love with a woman he deems perfect, Emma's secretary Lindsey. Mildred Finch, a friend of the family, meanwhile, has long been in love with Hugh. Her brother is in love with Randall's wife, Ann, and she reciprocates that love, but neither is willing to do anything about it so long as she is married to Randall. Hugh's grandson Penn is infatuated with Randall and Ann's daughter Miranda. And Miranda? She has plans of her own.

Put like that, An Unofficial Rose could sound like a cheap soap opera, but that would be far from the truth. Each of the relationships in the story — and there are more of them I haven't mentioned here — sheds light on the other ones and on the various personalities involved.

Murdoch herself was not a Christian, though the book begins and ends with Scripture ("O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength: before I go hence and be no more seen"). Somewhere Murdoch once referred to herself as a Manichaean, in the sense that, though she didn't believe in the God of Scripture, she did believe in an absolute Good and Evil. But Good and Evil aren't merely concepts that float somewhere off in space; they are lived out in our concrete lives, in the choices we make, and in particular in the choices we make in our relationships. We often make bad choices for good motives and good choices for bad motives — and many times, we can't even determine what our real motives are ("But to be understood is not a human right. Even to understand oneself is not a human right"). Nor do we always know what we want. Certainly, we want happiness, but where is happiness to be found? Not every path that promises happiness brings you to that goal, nor does every painful step doom you to a life of misery.

It's not my favourite Murdoch novel, nor is it a book I'd recommend to everyone, but it is a thought-provoking read. For more on Murdoch's ethical fiction, you might want to see the articles by Alan Jacobs and Joseph Malikail. John John 10:59 AM 8753907 Tuesday, January 15, 2002 Well, Bill DeJong's blog is back after a short delay, but he has a new address now. He says that Blogger let him log in, but didn't give him access to his blog, for some reason. So he transferred all the old stuff to his new blog. The big, annoying question? Why, even after borrowing my template, does he have the dates of his archives nicely located under his "Archives" heading and I can't seem to get them to show up there? John John 11:48 PM 8740453 Monday, January 14, 2002 Here's something Doug Wilson wrote in the latest Credenda/Agenda:
We need to run periodic worldview tests on ourselves, looking primarily for the residuum of Gnosticism. Many times we will find more than just residue. Call this process diagnostics. We have bodies. God likes matter. Our bodies are not disposable casings for cerebral events. But ask a typical Reformed church to have the congregation raise their hands during the Gloria Patri and see what happens.
John John 1:59 PM 8690786 Well, I'm back from the Pastors Conference in Monroe, Louisiana. I had a wonderful time, though I regret that I wasn't there for the first night of the conference and had to miss Steve Schlissel's and Doug Wilson's first speeches.

Rick picked me up at the airport on Monday night and introduced me to Steve Wilkins. I had supper at the Wilkins' place and then went to the hotel ... and discovered, to my horror, that I'd brought only the first few pages of my lecture outlines! I immediately started sweating, because I figured that would help. I tried to scribble down some of the stuff on the missing pages. And then the Lord calmed me down enough to call one of my elders, Duane Konynenbelt, who went to my house, e-mailed the outlines to Steve Wilkins, and printed them out and faxed them to the hotel. Whew! I owe Duane bigtime now!

I spoke three times on Tuesday, and the talks were very well received. It was great to visit some old friends, to see some people I've known only through e-mail (e.g., Rick Capezza, Mark Horne, Jeff Steel), and to meet a lot of new friends. I stayed up till 3:00 AM on Wednesday night (um, actually, Thursday morning) talking and laughing with Rick. Thanks for the Guinness and the talk, Rick!

For more reviews of the conference, you can see Rick's, John Butler's, and Mark's comments. You can get tapes of the conference ($60.00 US) from Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church.

I see the speaker for their Spring Conference (March 22-24) is Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, professor of NT and Ethics at my alma mater, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and father-in-law of Bill DeJong.

On another note, my father, whose name is the same as mine, has started a blog of his own. Welcome to the world of blogging, Dad! John John 1:49 PM 8690503 Saturday, January 05, 2002 Wouldn't you know it? Just when I've finished preparing my lecture on covenant and election, I've found some more information. This is what Zwingli wrote about covenant children:
For when he includes us under Abraham's covenant this word makes us no less certain of their election than of the old Hebrews'. For the statement that they are in the covenant, testament and people of God assures us of their election until the Lord announces something different of some one.
Elsewhere, Zwingli adds: "Indeed it is my opinion that all infants who are under the testament are doubtless of the elect by the laws of the testament." Notice what Zwingli is saying. He's not saying that every child in the covenant is going to persevere to the end. He goes on to talk about Esau, who apostatized. Nor is Zwingli saying that we are merely to presume that the child is elect. He's talking about "the laws of the testament," by which he means God's way of speaking about our children in His covenant.

Peter Lillback, who cites Zwingli's comments in his The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology, sums up Zwingli's view this way:
Instead of the pious agnosticism of the divine decree advanced by Cellarius, Zwingli asserted the concept of the revealed law of God and its promise that enabled one to consider his children who had been baptized into the covenant as elect, until they proved otherwise.... Zwingli believed that infant baptism was a sign of the covenant which brought a promise of salvation to the children. The very covenant sign for Zwingli was critical because it was an attestation of the decree of election for the parents and their child. One might later prove that he was not truly one of Christ's by not manifesting the faith that was the fruit of election. But to assume that of any infant, or even to remain in an uncertain state as taught by Cellarius, was to deny the law of God which undergirded the covenant sign (p. 108).
One of these days, I'm going to have read Lillback's book. It seems to me that Zwingli picked up on something which later got warped (e.g., into presumption) or lost. Later writers, in line with Zwingli's contemporary Cellarius, don't seem to emphasize God's promise — God's authoritative, covenantal pledge — in connection with election. Instead, they speak of being "internally" or "externally" in the covenant, as if the covenant is really with the elect alone, and the rest are only in the sphere of the covenant. And then people started thinking that we need to "presume" a child is elect and therefore in the covenant (e.g., Abraham Kuyper) or they worried about whether they were really elect. Where do you look for assurance when you can't look to God's objective promise? John John 11:25 AM 8435938 Have the official (officious?) people who make it their job to declare years "The Year of" any fool thing that comes to mind done the right thing yet? Have they declared 2002 "The Year of the Palindrome"? I've been thinking about palindromes ever since I heard an announcer on CKUA radio talking about them. A palindrome is a word or sentence which reads the same whether you're reading from right to left or from left to right. "Race car," for instance, is a palindrome, as is "A Toyota." Here are some classic palindromes:
"No, sir! Away! A papaya war is on!"

"Doc, note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod."

"A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!"

"Go hang a salami; I'm a lasagna hog!"
You are, of course, welcome to post your favourite palindromes in the comments. And till next time, all I can say is, "So, Ida. Adios!" John John 11:10 AM 8435608 Friday, January 04, 2002 For the last few days, I've been preparing lectures for the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church Pastors Conference. This year's conference is on the covenant, and I've been invited to speak, along with Steve Schlissel and Doug Wilson. I'm replacing Norman Shepherd, who had to back out in November because his wife was battling terminal cancer. It's an honour to take his place. Norman is a friend of mine, and he was secretary of the board at Mid-America Reformed Seminary when I was there.

My three lectures are entitled "Covenant and History," "Covenant and Election," and "Covenant and Evangelism." The one on covenant and election allowed me to think through some of things in my article on baptism and election again. Why do so many (most?) books on election skim over the Old Testament? Why do so few even mention Deuteronomy 7, let alone deal with it in any detail? Joel Garver's essays on apostasy were helpful, as was his "Brief Catechesis on Covenant and Baptism".

Now if I can only shake this cold which I seem to have caught.... John John 9:55 PM 8425132 Wednesday, January 02, 2002 I've been working on John 1:29-34 and thinking about John's baptism and Jesus' baptism by John and Jesus' baptism of others with the Holy Spirit.

In Ezekiel 36, God makes this promise:
I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities.... I will put my Spirit in you, and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God (Ezek. 36:24-28 NIV).
This promise combines several elements: new exodus and restoration from exile, baptism and cleansing from uncleanness, and the Spirit's presence and new obedience. And those elements also show up in connection with John's baptism.

When John the Baptizer calls the Israelites away from their homes to the wilderness, he's calling for a new exodus, only this time the people are being taken out of Israel itself, with its corrupt leadership. The people are being washed: baptism is a form of ceremonial washing from uncleanness, like the washings for those who were leprous or who touched dead people, allowing the people to return to life in the covenant community. And John baptizes specifically in the Jordan, the river Israel crossed when entering the land in the first place, and is therefore a symbolic re-entrance into the land, a restoration from exile.

But what about the LORD's promise to put His Spirit in His people? That happens, too, in connection with John's baptism. But it happens to only one person: Jesus.

When Jesus is baptized, the Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove, which ought to remind us, I submit, of what happens after the flood. Noah sends out a dove and the dove flies back and forth over the water, landing only when there is sufficient dry land to allow Noah to leave the ark. The dove's presence — and the dove's landing — speak of new creation. (Think, too, of the Spirit hovering like a bird over the waters in Genesis 1.)

The Spirit descends on Jesus and remains on Him. In Him, P. H. R. van Houwelingen says, the dove of peace finds fixed ground. But that's what Israel expected for herself. Add to that the fact that God's voice identifies Jesus as God's beloved Son. "Son of God" was a title that applied to Israel. God told Pharaoh to let Israel go because Israel was His firstborn son. (Adam, too, is God's Son.)

By the Voice from heaven, Jesus is identified as God's Son, which means in part that He is taking on Himself Israel's role. By the Spirit's presence, Jesus is identified as the Israel who experiences the fulfilment of the LORD's promise in Ezekiel 36. By the Spirit's power, then, Jesus goes to do what Israel could not do for herself (and what Adam, God's son, couldn't do.) He lives obediently and dies obediently, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the final sacrifice whose death brings about divine forgiveness for those who belong to Him.

But then He also bestows the Spirit. The bearer of the Spirit, van Houwelingen says, is the giver of the Spirit. John the Baptizer pointed people to Jesus as the one who would baptize with the Spirit. He's the one who would complete and fulfil John's own baptism, who would bring about the reality of Ezekiel 36, the reality of restoration from exile, forgiveness of sins, renewal by the Spirit and the power to obey.

But who experienced those things? Not all the people who had been baptized by John, but those who also went on from John's baptism to put their trust in Christ. (Is this what being "born of water and the Spirit" in John 3 means?) Jesus gathered disciples around Himself and when He ascended He poured out His Spirit upon them, baptizing the whole church with the Holy Spirit.

So now who shares in that baptism and in the fulfilment of all that God promised His people? Who has the power to walk in God's ways and to keep His commandments because they have the Spirit? Those who are members of Christ's church, who've been baptized into Christ.

Or to put it another way: If you've been baptized, you're a member of the church Christ baptized with His Spirit. God has promised His Holy Spirit to you in Christ. And you can grab hold of that promise and start to live according to His commandments, trusting that you have the Spirit's power at work in you, just as God said. John John 3:17 PM 8355942