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Tuesday, July 30, 2002 Today, I finished reading Bret Lott's The Man Who Owned Vermont. Lott, I'm told, is a member of a PCA, and this was his first novel. He does a very good job of getting us into the lives of ordinary people, people who make the same kinds of blunders and commit the same kinds of ordinary (but no less harmful) sins most of us do.

Rick Wheeler is an RC Cola salesman whose wife has left him. He doesn't know why, or so he tells himself (and us). Aching from what he sees as the failure of his marriage, he tries to cope by throwing himself into his work, making new friends, and even meeting someone new. But as the story progresses (and as Rick fills us in on what has happened in the past), we see that coping is no replacement for reconciliation.

It's a heartbreaking story, and at times it frightened me. I look forward to being a husband someday, Lord willing, but I'm also aware — and books like this make me more aware — of my own inclination toward selfishness, and, as Lott shows, selfishness and a failure to give oneself to another destroy marriages.

In Acts, Larry Woiwode writes, referring to the novel which "was used to draw Kuyper over the threshold into conversion,"
The right book at the right time has that potential. It can teach us to live, or make it possible to live, or render incarnate through its characters the lived life of a Christian, or simply draw us out of bed and set us on our feet again. This can seem nearly miraculous when it happens, and this is the moment we seek, writers first of all, when we enter the first sentence of a novel: a way to live (p. 44).
Conversely, as with Lott's novel, a story can also shed light on our lives and even move us to repentance as it shows us people living out our destructive tendencies. John John 10:26 PM 79628499 Monday, July 29, 2002 More good news! Bill and Kim had a baby boy at 4:30 this morning. His name is Ian Nathanael DeJong, and he's a big boy: 10 lbs 13 oz. Congratulations, Bill and Kim! John John 4:15 PM 79568758 This past week, my sister Charlene took part in a 1204.3 kilometre bicycle race in the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta. The ride started in Kamloops, BC, headed north through Clearwater, east through Jasper, Alberta, south to Lake Louise, and then west to Kamloops again. You can see a map of the route here.

Charlene has ridden 200, 400, and 600 kilometer rides already this year, but this was her first 1200. They're supposed to have posted her times here, but they haven't yet. She is listed, however, on the final results page. Scroll down till you find Rider # 512, Charlene Burwood. She completed the ride in 88 hours and 33 minutes, counting the few hours in which she slept.

Congratulations, Char! I'm proud of you! John John 3:34 PM 79567362 Sunday, July 28, 2002 For those of you who have been following the story of the RPCUS heresy charges, here is the official response from Trinity Reformed Church, the congregation which I pastor:
Dear Sir,

We received your letter containing your resolutions and your Call to Repentance, but we do not intend to act upon them. You have not substantiated your charges and your statements were not clear. Your Call to Repentance does not distinguish Rev. Barach from other speakers, nor do you indicate which errors he is accused of teaching.

Furthermore, you have not pursued your concerns in a brotherly and edifying way. While Matthew 18 may not apply to public matters, Joshua 22 provides a biblical example of brothers seeking clarification before acting. At no point have you sought to contact Rev. Barach to seek clarification.

On behalf of the elders of Trinity Reformed Church,
Gerrit Greidanus, Clerk
This letter was adopted by the consistory on Monday and has been mailed (and e-mailed) to the Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS.
John John 9:22 PM 79534375 Sunday, July 21, 2002 I've been fairly busy recently, and haven't been able to read as much as I would have liked to. I'm still working my way through E. Brooks Holifield's The Covenant Sealed. He points out that many of the early Puritans thought that "conceptual understanding was essential to sacramental worship" (pp. 35-36). In fact, it seems that some of the early Puritans saw the efficacy of the sacraments as a matter of reasoning. William Perkins wrote:
The signes and visible elements affect the senses outward and inward: the senses convey their object to the mind: the mind directed by the holy Ghost reasoneth on this manner, out of the promise annexed to the Sacrament: He that useth the elements aright, shall receive grace thereby: but I use the elements aright in faith and repentance, saith the mind of the believer: therefore shall I receive from God increase of grace. Thus, then, faith is confirmed not by the worke done, but by a kind of reasoning caused in the mind, the argument or proofe whereof is borrowed from the elements, being signes and pledges of God mercie (cited p. 53, emphasis Holifield's).
Elsewhere, Perkins wrote,
[When] the elements of bread and wine are present to the hand and to the mouth of the receiver; at the verie same time the body and bloud of Christ are presented to the minde: thus and no otherwise is Christ truly present with the signes (cited p. 58).
William Bradshaw wrote in a similar vein:
Hence also it appears, that we specially eate the flesh of Christ, and drink his bloud, when with a beleeving heart and mind, we effectually remember and in our remembrance, we seriously meditate of, and in our meditations are religiously affected, and in our affections thoroughly inflamed with the love of Christ, grounded upon that which Christ hath done for us, and which is represented and sealed unto us in this Sacrament (cited p. 59).
From quotations such as these, it seems that at least some of the Puritans thought that the way the sacraments (and the Lord's Supper in particular) work is by making us think. Moved, it appears, by a fear of any kind of ex opere operato view ("not by the worke done," says Perkins), they adopted instead a view grounded on the primacy of the intellect — as if God's way of working was primarily (or even, perhaps, only) through the mind and depended on intellectual understanding: no intellectual understanding, no efficacy of the sacraments and no grace enjoyed by those who use the sacraments. John John 3:40 PM 79231404 Friday, July 19, 2002 In his comments on a previous post, Duane relates his best (worst?) worship service blooper — and it's a wonderful one! — and asks for mine. Here it is.

I was preaching the sermon that would be evaluated in connection with my candidacy exam, after which I would be declared eligible for call. The sermon was on Exodus 33, where Moses asks to see the LORD's glory. The LORD refuses to show Moses His face, but does give him a view from the back.

I said, departing dangerously from my manuscript, "A view from the back is an imperfect view. It's like when you're walking in a mall and see someone...."

I meant to say, "from the back" or "from behind." Either would have been acceptable. But what came out was the combination: "It's like when you're walking in the mall and see someone from the behind...."

Afterward, my pastor came up to me and said, "Well, now we know what you look at when you walk in the mall!" John John 3:27 PM 79167678 For the past two weeks, it has been very hot here in Lethbridge. I don't have air conditioning, and my study is the highest (and hence, the hottest) room in the house. The two big windows facing south are wonderful in the winter, but in the summer they let in a lot of heat. (The three walls covered with bookshelves, floor to ceiling, on the other hand, are wonderful year round.) Today was a little cooler, and we even had some rain early in the morning. The sun is out now, though, and it's starting to heat up.

Which leads me to this question: Do you categorize books as "winter reads" and "summer reads"? I can't say that I have every book categorized that way, but there are certain books that just seem as if they would be better read when the weather is cold and there's snow on the ground. Take The Lord of the Rings, for example: I could certainly read it during the summer, but there's something about it that calls (to my mind, at least) for cold weather. The same is true of The Book of the New Sun: I deliberately chose to read it in the winter. Mind you, the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, made a great spring read for some reason.

I just finished reading John Updike's The Centaur, probably the Updike book I've enjoyed the most so far (more than Rabbit Run). The book is somewhat odd. The main character, George Caldwell is a teacher at the high school in Olinger, a setting to which Updike has frequently returned. That part of the story seems pretty straightforward, but in a couple of chapters, the story is told as if Caldwell is Chiron, a centaur, and the whole story is linked in some way to Greek mythology. In fact, Updike, at the request of his wife, even included an index at the end, showing all the references to various mythological figures. But when you look up those references, you don't see, for instance, the name "Venus" on the page to which he refers you; rather, you might see a reference to Vera Hummel.

Sometime, it might be worthwhile for me to re-read the book and look at those connections more carefully. For now, I just enjoyed the story and the beauty of Updike's poetic prose. I suppose I could have read it comfortably in the winter — the description of the falling snow toward the end of the book is beautiful — but it made a pretty good summer read, too.

Mysteries I could read in any season. Just recently, I read and enjoyed Dorothy Sayers' The Documents in the Case, written, interestingly enough, as a collection of letters and other documents.

Well, my company has just arrived home. Alex and Calvin Barendregt and Tim Gallant, all from Grande Prairie, are down for the weekend. Gotta go! John John 2:36 PM 79166003 Tuesday, July 16, 2002 Have you ever found a typo or a grammatical glitch in a Bible? Generally it seems as if Bible publishers are pretty careful to make sure that there are no such errors, but once in a while one slips through. In the 1600s, one version of the Bible left out the word "not" in the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt commit adultery."

The mistake I found in my edition of the NKJV isn't that funny, but here it is. In Ezekiel 14:21, I have
For thus says the Lord GOD: "How much more it shall be when I send my four severe judgments on Jerusalem — the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence — to cut off man and beast from it?"
What the Lord says here is clearly a question, not an indicative statement, and therefore it should be "shall it," not "it shall." Not a huge glitch, but it's the only one I've found and I'm curious whether this same error shows up in all editions of the NKJV or just in the one I'm using. Did some editor finally spot it and fix it? John John 10:27 AM 79025910 Saturday, July 13, 2002 Once again, I'm indebted to Joel. He has a very helpful post on the phrase ex opere operato, a phrase which is often tossed around in discussions of the sacraments. Thanks, Joel! John John 9:38 PM 78924751 Thursday, July 11, 2002 Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, where Steve Schlissel is a pastor, has posted its response to the RPCUS resolutions now. Check out their new offer on their homepage: "Find the Heresy and Win $1,000,000.00." (Of course, you've got to notice the comment at the end: "Payable by the RPCUS — as long as we're 'charging' each other.") John John 11:08 PM 78852737 Wednesday, July 10, 2002 Last night, I started reading E. Brooks Holifield's The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, 1570-1720. I've often seen the book in footnotes and bibliographies and I finally tracked down a copy.

So far, I've read only the first part of the first chapter, the section dealing with Luther and Zwingli. I'm just starting the section on John Calvin. But already, I've begun to wonder about a theological strain which can be found in the early Reformers and which still infects the church today, namely, the idea that real worship is "spiritual" as opposed to physical — an idea which tends to downplay the sacraments.

If I recall correctly, Carlos Eire, in War Against the Idols, points out that the iconoclasm of many of the Reformers was grounded on Christ's statement that God is Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth, which they took to mean that our worship should be purged of all the "externals" and "physical stuff" which characterized medieval Roman Catholic worship. I'd agree that there were problems with medieval worship, but I question the "spiritual worship is non-physical, non-external worship" argument and the exegesis and the understanding of God's "spirituality" that lie behind it. It seems like a remnant of gnosticism, not to mention a far cry from the robust and even sensual worship we find in Scripture.

Zwingli's view of the sacraments, in particular, seems to have been shaped by this emphasis on "spiritual" worship. Holifield writes:
Zwingli believed that the Spirit acted directly on the souls of men without the mediation of material instruments. Implicit in that belief was a devaluation of external means, which, he said, could "never cleanse the soul." In effect, Zwingli divided the world into material and spiritual spheres which could never intersect, and then he located Christian existence solely in the realm of spirit. Consequently, internal spiritual baptism, constituted by an immediate relation between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man, was not necessarily related to the external water baptism. Zwingli's presuppositions left little room for baptismal efficacy. In 1525 he even denied that the sacrament could strengthen faith: "It does not justify the one who is baptized, nor does it confirm his faith, for it is not possible for an external thing to confirm faith" (p. 7)
By 1531, Zwingli did admit that the sacraments could strengthen faith, which is certainly an improvement on his earlier position.

It strikes me that this same sort of view lives on today. If Paul says something about baptism which sounds as if baptism is efficacious in some way, then people conclude that Paul mustn't be talking about water baptism. He must mean Spirit baptism instead.

Looking for a topic for a doctoral dissertation in Reformation church history? Here's one worth studying. Where did this "spiritual worship versus 'physical, external' worship" view come from? Some of the Reformers got it from Erasmus, but did it originate with him? Why the opposition to "externals"? What's the exegesis behind that? Does it have something to do with the Reformer's understanding of the move from Old Covenant to New Covenant? I expect so. What's the rest of the history of this "not water baptism but Spirit baptism" interpretation? How did Reformed people end up claiming that God's real work is immediate (i.e., unmediated)?

I imagine Holifield is going to give me some answers, though I want to be cautious as I read him. Reformation scholars, like other scholars, sometimes (mis)read their sources in terms of their own categories and questions. At any rate, the book looks like a very interesting read. John John 11:12 PM 78808591 It's the 493rd anniversary of John Calvin's birth, and he's celebrating on Valerie's blog. Look! He's about to smile.... John John 10:17 AM 78783203 Monday, July 08, 2002 The lectures from the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church's Pastors' Conference are now available online here. I've provided links to my three lectures in the column on the side under "Articles and Lectures."

In related news, Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, where Doug Wilson is the pastor, has posted their official response to the RPCUS resolutions. John John 1:10 PM 78698943 Thursday, July 04, 2002 In the comments on the last post, Chris asked for a list of the books I bought on my vacation. I'm not sure that list would make gripping reading for anyone besides me. It would also be one of the longer posts on this blog!

I did pick up some books I'd bought via and had shipped to my friend Chip, including Donald Howard's The Idea of the Canterbury Tales, Jill Raitt's The Colloquy of Montbeliard, about the debate between Jacobus Andreas (Lutheran) and Theodore Beza, and Gene Wolfe's Bibliomen (hard to find) and The Book of the Short Sun (all three Short Sun novels in one volume!). And when I got home, I found that my copy of E. Brooks Holifield's The Covenant Sealed had arrived. I paid an arm and a leg for it, but it looks very good.

Enough about books I bought. On to books I've read. While I was at my grandmother's place, I read N. T. Wright's New Heavens, New Earth. It's a fairly short booklet, but it provides a very good discussion of the Christian's future hope. "Christian hope," Wright says, "is not simply for 'going to heaven when we die,' but for 'new heavens and new earth, integrated together'" (p. 5). Along the way, Wright provides some helpful exegesis. 1 Peter 1:4 speaks of "an inheritance ... kept in heaven for you," but that passage doesn't indicate that we must go to heaven to enter our inheritance.
The point is that salvation is being kept safe in heaven for you, in order then to be brought from heaven to where you are, so that you can enjoy it there. It is rather like a parent, in the run-up to Christmas, assuring a child that "there is indeed a present kept safe in the cupboard for you." That does not mean that on Christmas Day and thereafter the child is going to have to go and live in the cupboard in order to enjoy the present there. Rather, it means that at the appropriate time the present will be brought forth out of its safe hiding-place, so that it can enrich the life of the child in the world of real life, not just in the cupboardly world (p. 7).
Nor does "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:19-21) mean that "heaven is our real home, the place to which we will eventually go" and that we are "just a-passin' through" here.
The point of being a citizen of a mother city is not that when life gets really tough, or when you retire, you can go back home to the mother city. The people to whom Paul was writing in Philippi were Roman citizens, but they had no intention of going back to Rome. They were the means through which Roman civilization was being brought to the world of Northern Greece. If and when the going got tough there, the emperor would come from Rome to deliver them from their enemies in Philippi, and establish them as a true Roman presence right there. So, Paul says, "from heaven we await a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body" (p. 8).
Wright doesn't deny the reality of heaven ("God's dimension of reality"), nor does he deny that believers who die before the day of resurrection continue to live with Christ. But he rightly stresses that living with Christ in a disembodied state in heaven isn't our final goal.
"Departing and being with Christ," or "living to God," ... are for the New Testament writers ways of expressing a temporary stage, ahead of the time when God will restore all things, and will renew his people to bodily life, in the midst of his new creation (p. 21).
Here's Wright's summary of the Christian's hope:
Christian hope, therefore, is for a full, recreated life in the presence and love of God, a totally renewed creation, an integrated new heavens and new earth, and a complete humanness — complete not in and for itself as an isolated entity, but complete in worship and love for God, complete in love for one another as humans, complete in stewardship over God's world, and so, and only in that complete context, a full humanness in itself (p. 24).
Good stuff! John John 11:02 PM 78576861 Tuesday, July 02, 2002 Well, I'm finally back from my vacation. As you've read in my last post (which, of course, you've read and re-read for the last month, judging by the comments on it), I left home on June 5 to attend Classis Western Canada of the United Reformed Churches. After the classis, I drove from Ponoka, Alberta, to Abbotsford, British Columbia — an 11-hour-or-so drive -- for a classis-wide pulpit exchange. Which reminds me of a dialogue I once had, understandable perhaps only to those who know the Dutch word for "Reverend":
TERRY: "So when you have a pulpit exchange, you come here and our pastor goes to another church and that pastor goes to another church.... It's kind of a domino effect!"

ME: "No, Terry. It's the dominee effect."
On June 9, I led worship and preached for the Surrey Covenant Reformed Church (URC) in the morning and then for Maranatha Canadian Reformed Church in the afternoon. That was the first time I had preached in a Canadian Reformed Church. I was very well received. Several of the members came up to me afterward and told me that they were delighted that our churches had entered into ecclesiastical fellowship and that they were looking forward to closer relations in the future.

My grandmother lives in Abbotsford, so I figured I would start my vacation after the pulpit exchange. I did a lot of reading that week (June 10-15) and hit a few of my favourite used book stores. I also spent a lot of time with Rob Schouten, the pastor of the Abbotsford Canadian Reformed Church. We went into Vancouver to visit Regent College. I blew a lot of money in their bookstore. No surprise there, eh? On the 16th, I preached in the morning for the Langley Reformed Evangelical Church (CRE) and in the afternoon for Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church (URC) in Abbotsford. Call me Mr. Ecumenical: three denominations in two weeks.

On June 17, I left Abbotsford and drove to Moscow, Idaho, where I spent most of the next week, staying at the home of Chip and Janet Lind. Janet was away, so Chip and I were batching — and I have to say that Chip can cook better than I can! We had company over for a couple of nights in a row, and Chip made some pretty good food. I also caught up on my movie watching: I saw Being There, Waking Ned Devine, and Strictly Ballroom, all a lot of fun.

While in Moscow, I spent some time at Bucer's Coffeehouse Pub, sipping Guinness and reading John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, and P. G. Wodehouse's Piccadilly Jim. Ahhh.....

On Thursday, June 20, I had lunch and a good talk with Doug Wilson. I also chatted with Doug Jones. It sounds as if Canon Press has a lot of great stuff lined up. Peter Leithart has just finished a book entitled Against Christianity (see his great essay, "Against Christianity; For the Church"). Steve Wilkins has a book coming out soon (on celebration, if I recall my glance at the cover correctly). And they're hoping to publish books on worship by Leithart and Jeff Meyers and on the Trinity by Ralph Alan Smith and Jeff Meyers sometime next year. I'm looking forward to them eagerly!

On Friday morning, I drove up to Spokane and caught a flight to Chicago, where I was picked up, housed, fed, and automobiled by Wes White, a student at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and an e-mail correspondent of mine. I hadn't met him before in person, but it was great to be able to get to know him in person. Chicago was extremely hot and humid, especially after Lethbridge (dry and windy as a rule, but rainy to the point of flooding the week I was in Abbotsford) and Idaho (warm but dry).

The primary reason I flew out to Chicago was to attend the wedding of Sarah Smith and Tim Boer. When I was in seminary, I spend a lot of time at Sarah's parents' place and it was great to be able to witness Sarah's wedding and to visit old friends (in particular, Sarah's older brother, Nick and his new wife). I also had coffee with some classmates from seminary who are pastoring in the area.

On the 27th, I was back in the air, arriving back in Spokane by about 10:30 in the evening. I spent that weekend with Peter and Noel Leithart. Peter and I did a lot of talking, and I spent some time with him and several of his sons at the ball diamond on Saturday morning. That evening, we watched Run Lola Run, a rather odd movie (Peter: "What just happened there?" Me: "I have no idea").

I worshipped with Christ Church that Sunday: great music, weekly communion, raised hands for the Gloria Patri, congregational Amens, and all kinds of other enjoyable things, as well as a helpful sermon in Wilson's "Reformed Is Not Enough" series. I spent that afternoon with Roy and Bev Atwood, a home where the food is always good (to say nothing of the wine!). Then I attended the "Men's Forum" in the evening before returning to the Leitharts.

The next day — Monday, in fact — I drove the eight hours or so back to Lethbridge where I found waiting for me, among other things, a birthday present from some online friends (who appear to have been surfing my Amazon wishlist: many thanks, Chris and Sydney!) and over 400 e-mails.

In other news, as some of you probably know from the blogs by Mark and Davey, I've been officially declared a heretic. The Covenant Presbytery (RPCUS) has adopted some resolutions (confusingly identified as a response to the "New Perspective on Paul," though they have little or nothing to do with what normally goes by that name) and has made a statement about the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church's Ministerial Conference this January at which I spoke along with Steve Wilkins, Doug Wilson, and Steve Schlissel. Interestingly enough, the presbytery never contacted any of us to discuss our views with us nor did they document any of their charges. In fact, they never quote any of us. And some of their conclusions flow from leaps of (il)logic I'm having a hard time following. Andrew Sandlin has written a good response. Tapes of that conference are still available.

And now I've caught up on most of that e-mail and put away the trunkload of books I bought (you think I exaggerate?). I should probably clean up the living room a bit — one of my elders is coming over tomorrow — and read a little more Wodehouse before bed, my own bed, the bed I've missed. It was a good vacation and I enjoyed visiting all my friends, but it's great to be home again. John John 11:45 PM 78498229