Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Toward a Theology of New Year's Parties

By Andrew Faris

A few years ago I was at a New Year’s party with a bunch of my friends from high school, almost all of whom are not Christians. When the 3-hour-tape-delayed ball dropped in New York City and all of these drunk college students started cheering, I wondered exactly they were all cheering about (other than being drunk anyway). I think of Ben Gibbard’s lyrics in Death Cab for Cutie’s “The New Year”: “So this is the new year and I don’t feel any different...So this is the new year, and I have no resolutions for self assigned penance and problems with easy solutions.”

That feeling of contrivance is why I’ve never liked New Year’s.
For my non-Christian friends, New Year’s was an excuse to get drunk and kiss someone you didn’t know, then to pretend that they’ll lose some weight this year.

Of course some will aim for bigger targets than weight loss (no pun intended).
But do any of us really think that much is going to change? Do we really think that last year’s bad habits and lack of discipline are suddenly gone because time ticked a little farther forward? Most people will do the same bad things last year that they did this year.

That’s what total depravity would seem to indicate anyway. Spiritually dead children of wrath do not need a fresh start from a new year. They need reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ. They need the Holy Spirit to dwell in them to maintain obedience to our Lord.

No amount of new years can substitute for that. And indeed history indicates that there are plenty of sin-induced human tragedies in every new year. New Year’s is a prime reminder of the need for the gospel.

Of course it is different for Christians. We have the Holy Spirit, which means that we always have the power to increase our devotion to Christ. We don’t need a new year for that. If New Year’s is to be of any help to us, it will be in our tangible experience that, unlike the rest of sinful humanity (and unlike the sinful humans we once were), there is change we can believe in.

But that change, that growth, is only by God’s Spirit, only because of the blood of Christ, and only to the glory of God the Father.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Some Post-Advent Reflections on the Incarnation

The wife and I were in the great nation of Texas last week with her family, and I shirked my blogging responsibilities. Had I blogged, I would have posted this...

Perhaps no non-canonical writer has thought more deeply about Christ's birth than Athanasius. Here is a gem from his On the Incarnation (or, as Andrew would say, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei);

The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required. Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
(chapter 2, paragraph 9)

Read the whole thing here. It is well worth your time.

Also, John Piper did a biographical talk on Athanasius a few years back, which you can listen to here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Links Are On Me

By: Jenny Bruce

Roger Kimball contemplates The End of Art in First Things.

Atheist Matthew Parris believes Christian missionaries are the solution to Africa's biggest problem.

Craig Silverman hands out awards for the most memorable Media Errors and Corrections of 2008 (including a recipe that accidentally recommends a potentially deadly plant in organic salads and an amazing correction by Dave Barry.) There's a bit of colorful language, but it's a horrifying/hilarious read.

Why are the ox and ass keeping time in "The Little Drummer Boy" and present in so many Christmas carols and paintings? Fred Sanders has the answer.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Let's Go To The Movies

By: Jenny Bruce

Some people knit. Others fish. I go to the movies.

I love movies. I love them so much that I go about once a week. You know what I love almost as much as I love movies? Lists. Thus, as 2008 comes to a close, I thought I'd take this opportunity to put together several lists highlighting my picks for best and worst movies of the year. Yes, this post is fluffy and long. But hey, it's the Saturday after Christmas. And if there ever was a day to read a long and fluffy post, this would be the day. So here goes:

The 5 Best Movies Of 2008

Rachel Getting Married: Not only did this film contain the coolest wedding in the history of the world (porcelain trinkets as placecards? Genius!), it also featured outstanding performances from Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, and Debra Winger and a thoughtful and heartbreaking look at family dynamics. I've seen it twice and would see it again. It's probably my favorite movie of the year.

Frost/Nixon: So I didn't expect to cry at a movie about David Frost's historic interviews with Richard Nixon. But I did. A lot. You may not leave the theater with smudged mascara, but I think you'll enjoy the slice of history and fascinating study of two complicated men.

Iron Man: The only movie in the top 5 that didn't make me cry! I've always been a fan of super heroes that don't have super powers (other than their intellect, awesome gadgets and fat bank accounts.) Give me Batman over Superman anyday. So Tony Stark is definitely my kind of super hero and Iron Man was my kind of summer movie: explosions, humor, gadgets galore, a touch of romance, a bunch of A-List actors and Robert Downey Jr. Jon Favreau has already directed a near-perfect holiday movie with "Elf" and now he's given us a near-perfect super hero movie. Seriously, what can't he do?

Wall-E: I thought I was going to absolutely hate this movie. First: it features robots and I pretty much hate all movies that feature robots. Second: there's no dialogue for at least the first thirty minutes and I pretty much hate movies with no dialogue (I don't think I ever got over having to watch "The Red Balloon" in grade school.) Third: much of the movie takes place in space and I pretty much hate movies about space (Star Wars and Galaxy Quest excluded.) But I was wrong about "Wall-E". So very wrong. Those sneaky masterminds at Pixar opened the movie with "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and I was hooked. "Wall-E" was touching without being maudlin, message-oriented without being preachy, and had a perfect balance of sweetness and eerieness. I absolutely loved it.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button: This movie is the most beautifully crafted film about death that I've ever seen. And if you take hope in Christ out of the equation, this film's perspective on death makes a whole lot of sense. It's Ecclesiastes without the last two verses.

The 4 Worst Movies Of 2008

Swing Vote: Given that Kevin Costner was the star, I really should have known that this movie would end up on my year's worst list. But that didn't stop me from seeing it. And I can never get that hour and a half back.

The Women: I had such high hopes for this movie. I adored the original and the update featured Annette Benning, Carrie Fisher, and Candice Bergen. What wasn't to like? Well, perhaps the toothless adaptation of the originally biting script. Or the dull "sisterhood above all else" message. Or the lack of the original's ten minute fashion show. Or straightened hair as a symbol of female empowerment.

Nights In Rodanthe: The previews featured Diane Lane frolicking on the beach with horses, so I knew going in that this wasn't going to be "Citizen Kane." But sometimes it's fun to giggle over silly movies with your sister in law. I just worry a bit about Nicholas Sparks' need to kill his characters. Seriously, have you ever seen a Nicholas Sparks movie where a pivatol character doesn't die?

Mama Mia!: Hollywood musicals have been doing so well over the past few years: "Hairspray", "Chicago", "The Producers", and "Enchanted" were all winners. And then "Mama Mia!" had to go and ruin it all. However, if Meryl Streep was running around a Greek island singing the songs of Rogers and Hammerstein instead of Abba, I probably would have loved it.

The 3 Most Misunderstood Movies Of 2008

Australia: Critics panned it, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Baz Luhrman's three hour spectacle. Sure, it's three movies in one and contrived and sappy. But it's clearly made by someone who loves movies, the art direction is gorgeous, it stars the most adorable child actor of the year and the score somehow integrated Bach's "Where Sheep May Safely Graze", Elgar's "Enigma Variations" and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." I think it's a much better movie than the critics made it out to be.

City Of Ember: Again, not popular with the critics, but a truly nifty children's movie. It's just the kind of movie I enjoyed as a kid: heavy on secret rooms, cool inventions, plucky children, and nefarious adults and light on scary images, violence, disrespectful children, and oafish adults.

Be Kind, Rewind: I tend to think that everyone's expectations for this movie were too high, given that it was directed by indie darling, Michel Gondry. It made some people's worst of the year lists, but I totally enjoyed it. From Jack Black's antics to the homemade Fats Waller film, I thought it was delightful.

The 2 Movies Of 2008 You May Have Missed And Should Rent

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day: Amy Adams, Frances McDormand, and Lee Pace star in this screwball comedy (with a surprisingly sweet ending) set in the 1920's. A treat for anyone who loves snappy dialogue, art deco, or Amy Adams (and who doesn't love Amy Adams?)

Ghost Town: I expected this flick to be hilarious (any film featuring Ricky Gervais and Kristen Wiig is bound to be comedy gold), but I didn't expect it to also be insightful/touching/personally convicting. If you liked "Stranger Than Fiction", I have a feeling you'll like "Ghost Town" as well.

The 1 Movie I'm Ashamed To Admit I Saw/Liked In 2008

High School Musical 3: Yes, I saw it. And yes, I liked it.

That's it for me. I'm anxious to read your lists!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

From your friends at Christians in Context. May the birth of our Lord and Savior bring you great comfort and joy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chrismas v. The American Way (According to Bill Faris)

One of the best posts I've read on my Dad's blog is his analysis of the usual optimism of American pseudo-moralistic Christmas and its fight with the pessimism of American anti-religious, economic-downturn progressivism. Only instead of using so many "ism's," he just describes the environment. Here is his main point:
My point is that sentimental Christmas is not up to this perfect storm of political correctness, financial crisis and collective fear and loathing. Santa's sleigh is stalled in line at the WalMart and not even Rudolph's red nose can penetrate the gathering gloom. O'Reilley might be handing out "Merry Christmas" bumper stickers, but instead of being a familiar traditional greeting, the phrase has become a defiant political statement along the lines of "hell no, we won't go".

What we need is REAL Christmas -- the Jesus-centered kind. That's because the Bible reminds us that the First Christmas took place during a period of political oppression, social turmoil and religious sterility. "That", God said, "is the kind of environment that is just right for my Messiah to come". This is the Jesus, the True Gift of Christmas , that we need in times like these. He is the One who climbed into this world "silently, so silently" before shaking us to the core when the time was just right.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yes, Jenny, There Is A Santa Claus

By: Jenny Bruce

I never believed in Santa Claus. There were no presents labeled "To Jenny, From Santa" under the tree. There was no plate of cookies and glass of milk set out on Christmas Eve. There was no listening for the pitter pat of reindeer hooves on the roof. No childlike faith. No awe and wonder. I knew about the historical Saint Nicholas and that I shouldn't ruin the traditions of any of my Santa believing friends. I also knew that I should give my Christmas lists directly to my parents. And that I should thank them for my presents. I have absolutely no regrets about growing up without Santa and I always figured I'd raise my hypothetical children the same way.

Tony Woodlief published an interesting article about this subject in the Wall Street Journal last week. In "OK, Virginia, There's No Santa Claus. But There Is God", Woodlief proposes that belief in Santa and other fairy tales may encourage the development of our faith:

"I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren't overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational."

He continues:

"As a parent, I believe (with the older apologists) that it's essential to preserve a small, inviolate space in the heart of a child, a space where he is free to believe impossibilities. The fantasy writer George MacDonald -- author of "The Light Princess" and "The Golden Key" -- whom Lewis esteemed as one of his greatest inspirations, suggested that it is only by gazing through magic-tinted eyes that one can see God: "With his divine alchemy," MacDonald wrote, "he turns not only water into wine, but common things into radiant mysteries." The obfuscating spirit of the "commonplace," meanwhile, is "ever covering the deep and clouding the high."

This sheds light on a seeming paradox in St. Paul's letter to Roman Christians: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. . . ." How does one see "invisible attributes"? Only people raised on fairy tales can make sense of that. It belongs in a terrain where magic glasses can illumine what was heretofore hidden, where rabbit holes open into wonderlands. No wonder some atheists like Mr. Dawkins want to kill Harry Potter."

While I see where Mr. Woodlief is coming from (and am a great fan of Lewis and Chesterton), I question if children need fairy tales to view the world with a sense of wonder and believe in the impossible. Can't we encourage this same worldview using things that are real? Watching the fantastically strange birds of Papua New Guinea on an episode of "Planet Earth" fills me with more awe than belief in the Tooth Fairy ever did (I'm still not quite sure how I managed to reject Santa, but firmly clung to belief in this magical woman throughout elementary school. Maybe it was because she gave me money.) Once I almost started crying as I drove home because the moon was breathtakingly big. I'm consistently enthralled by the fact that God gave us taste buds. And the more I understand about how the world works, the more I am dumbfounded by God's wisdom and creativity.

Children naturally think the world is a wondrous and magical place and I think we can encourage this belief by thoroughly enjoying and appreciating all that God has made. I love fairy tales, but wonder if they are as important as Mr. Woodlief (and Chesteron, Lewis, and McDonald) make them out to be.

What do you think? Are fairy tales/Santa Claus crucial to our faith development? Have they helped you grow in your faith? And what's your verdict on Santa?

As always, I covet your thoughts.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Joel Willits and George Ladd Need You to Need Them

I was unaware that George Ladd struggled so much with the need to be significant, but according to Joel Willits' reflection on the Ladd biography, he did. I really appreciate Willits' candor in discussing his own wrestling with this:
What drives us in our study? What compels us to earn MA's, ThM's and Ph.D.'s? What motivates us to write and present and publish? If I am honest I have been driven by much deep [sic] things than a quest for truth or a historical interest or even a spiritual hunger. While all these play a part in my motivation, a more profound and often unrecognized force is at work: my own insecurity and need to be significant. My need to be recognized and affirmed and to be viewed as a contributor.
Read the whole thing (which is only two paragraphs).

Friday, December 19, 2008

All Things Are Better in Koine (or The Nerdiest Bible Nerd Video You've Ever Seen)

By Andrew Faris

That's right friends, you cannot get any nerdier than a song and video dedicated to Koine Greek.

Go check out Carrie Allen's blog to see the nerd-tastic video, featuring two Ph.D. Bible/Theology profs at Biola University, Mickey Klink and Scott Yoshikawa.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Gospel of Will Smith

By Damian Romano

So I was surfing the web today like I do pretty much everyday at work, and I came across an article in Newsweek where they interviewed Will Smith on his new role in the upcoming movie "Seven Pounds." And while I really wasn't sure what I was going to find, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Will made the following statement.
For me I'm certain about my relationship with the model of perfection of human life that's laid out with the life of Jesus Christ. I'm certain of that.
However, reading on in the interview Will states, "I'm not bothered when someone says 'Allah' because they're talking about God—we are talking about the same person. (And later) My grandmother raised me to be a do-gooder in the church, that it was about doing what you can to help your community. So whatever religion does that— Jewish, Muslim, Scientology—it's cool because the end result is the same."

So while I was at first moderately excited to hear about Mr. Smith's pseudo-commitment to Christ, I quickly learned that he is just another cultural pluralist. But I guess we all should remember Matthew 19:24 when approaching topics like this.

If you're interested in reading the article, it can be found here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rick Warren the Semi-Pelagian?

By Andrew Faris

Rick Warren in an interview with Steven Walderman:
But going back to this thing about heaven and getting into a perfect place. Let’s say we got a scale of 1 to 100. Let’s put Hitler at zero and Mother Teresa at 100 OK. And Steve you’re at 85 and Larry’s at 65 and I’m at 45. The truth is, some people are better than others, there’s no doubt about it. Some people are more moral than others, they’re nicer, they’re less selfish, less self-centered, things like that. But the truth is, nobody makes [it] to perfection… And so somebody’s got to make up that difference. And that’s the gift I believe Jesus came to – to make up the difference between my zero and my 100 or my 45 and 100 -- somebody’s got to make up that difference. (HT: JT)
Is it just me, or does that sound like a Mormon understanding of atonement ("Do your best and Jesus does the rest")? I understand the point of the analogy, and I do believe that there are varying degrees of sin, but this at the very least confuses the issue of depravity (whether from an Arminian or Calvinist standpoint). None of us has anything of ourselves to offer for our justification.

The thing is, I don't actually think Warren is any kind of Pelagian or otherwise a heretic. My guess is that if you pressed him on the analogy, he would admit that nobody can present anything meritorious on his own behalf for justification. The problem is that, as Dan Phillips pointed out the other day, he is prone to go from being an articulate, genuine, and likeable representative of Biblical Christianity before our culture to making frustrating theological mini-gaffes when he could be much more careful.

Maybe I'm being nit-picky here, but then, it is the atonement...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sabbath, Jesus' Deity and John 5

By Jeff Bruce

This evening, our small group delved into John 5. We spent a good while pondering Jesus' statement in Jn 5:17, and why it elicits the response of Jn 5:18. In his useful little tome on John's gospel, John Pryor does well to elucidate the inner logic of these verses;

The dialogues of vv. 10-17 are typical of the evangelist's style, and they drive the story on to the point where the evangelist is able to give his summary (in v. 18) of the essential charge of the Jews against Jesus. In the process, Jesus gives his justification for his Sabbath action: just as the Father does not cease to act on the Sabbath, so he acts. Behind this is the rabbinic awareness that since people are born and die on the Sabbath, God cannot be said to be idle on any day, for the gift of life and the work of judgment are divine prerogatives. From his aligning of his activity with that of God, the Jews (= religious authorities) draw two conclusions: Jesus claims equality with God; and this is a self-made claim.
[John: Evangelist of the Covenant People - The Narrative & Themes of the Fourth Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1992); 26-27].

According to the rabbinic tradition (which the religious establishment would no doubt have been familiar with), God does not rest on the Sabbath, since on it he both gives and takes away life. Concordantly, Jesus does not refrain from asserting divine prerogatives on the Sabbath. Just as the Father gives life and death on the day of rest, so the Son gives eschatological life and exerts judgment on the day (cf. Jn 5:24-29). God's life-giving/judgment-exerting activity is now displayed in Christ, so that one must submit to the Son if he/she wishes to honor the Father.

More Gems from Bonhoeffer

By Jeff Bruce

I've started reading through Life Together, so I'll try and post some ruminations and/or quotes as I meander through it.

Bonhoeffer notes that the Christian life is lived among enemies. The Christian, "belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work." (17). Christians are scattered people, dispersed to be, "the seed of the kingdom of God in all the world." (18). Moreover, many believers are unable to fellowship with brothers and sisters because of imprisonment, exile, sickness, etc. Thus Christians should be profoundly grateful for whatever community they have. In Bonhoeffer's words,

...let him who until now has had the privilege of living in a common life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Carol Curriculum II

By: Jenny Bruce

Hello all! Here's part two in a four part series on using carols to teach the Christmas story to your kids. Last Saturday we looked at "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and today we'll dive into "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

Music Appreciation: Play a recording of the carol and listen to it with your kids. Depending on your child, you may want to let them draw or dance while they listen to the music. Then discuss questions like: "What is one word you would use to describe this song?" "Did you like listening to this song? Why or why not?" "How did this song make you feel?" "What kinds of pictures entered your mind as you listened to this song?" It might be fun to compare and contrast "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" with "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Discuss The Carol: Read through "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" with your kids, explaining what each line means. Since this carol is rooted in the Old Testament, it provides a wonderful opportunity to look up references to Old Testament prophecies (and expose your kid to sections of the Bible they might not be familiar with.) Check out Isaiah 7:17 (O come, O come Emmanuel), Isaiah 28:29 (O come, Thou Wisdom), Isaiah 11:1 (O come, Thou Rod of Jesse), Isaiah 22:22 (O come, Thou Key of David), and Haggai 2:7 (O come, Desire of Nations.)
I like to use this carol to focus on Jesus as Savior and King. You can explain why Israel longed for Emmanuel to come and how the people needed a savior to deliver them from their sins and a king to deliver them from their enemies. A few questions you might want to discuss include: "What two big problems did Israel have?" "Who did God promise He would send to solve these problems?" "How would Jesus solve the problem of sin?" "How would Jesus solve the problem of being attacked by other nations?" "Will Jesus ever come back and rule as a perfect King?"

Sing The Carol: Sing along with a recording, play instruments, or sing it acapella.

Do A Word Search: Visit Discovery Education's Puzzlemaker and make your own word search using lyrics from the carol such as Emmanuel, ransom, exile, tyranny, etc.

Make An Ornament: Buy shatter-proof ball ornaments, Mod Podge, paint brushes, and holiday scrapbook paper. Type the lyrics to the carol in a variety of fun fonts, print them on a few pages of scrapbook paper, and cut out the lyrics. Help your kids brush the Mod Podge onto the backs of the lyrics and glue them all over the ball. When they're finished, coat the entire ornament in Mod Podge. You can talk about the lyrics to the carol as you complete the craft.

Play Savior/King Scramble: Make a sign that says "Savior" and tape it to one wall and a sign that says "King" and tape it to another wall. Have your kids stand in the middle of the room. Explain that God promised to send both a savior and a king to the Israelites and those promises are recorded in the Bible. Say that you will read a promise about Jesus from the Old Testament and then say "go!" The kids should run to the "Savior" wall if they think the promise refers to Jesus saving us from the punishment for sin and the "King" wall if they think the promise refers to Jesus ruling as a perfect king. Savior verses include: Isaiah 53:2-12 (read one verse at a time), Psalm 22:16-18, and Zechariah 12:10. King verses include: Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 31:1, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Daniel 7:13-14, Isaiah 16:5, Zechariah 6:13, and Zechariah 9:-10.

Sheep Magnets: Buy wooden sheep cut outs, white hole reinforcements, small magnets, and yellow paper. Glue a magnet to the back of the sheep and let your child give it wool coat by covering it in hole reinforcements. Then cut a crown out of yellow paper and glue it on the sheep's head. Explain that this magnet will remind you that Jesus is both Savior and King. Talk about the Passover and how a sheep reminds us of Jesus' sacrifice for us. The crown reminds us that Jesus is King and will rule forever.

Christmas Countdown Chains: Help your child cut strips of paper and then make a chain - one link for every day until Christmas. Explain that you will remove a link from the chain each day to help count down to Christmas (you might want to write a fun activity on each link and then do that activity on the day you remove it: eat fancy ice cream, play a family game, build a fort out of the couch, etc.) Then talk about waiting for Christmas to come and discuss other things that require waiting. Talk about how Israel waited for Jesus to come to earth and why they longed for Him to arrive.

Happy Caroling!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Calvin on Humility and Listening to Preaching

By Andrew Faris

In a week I graduate from Talbot School of Theology with my M. A. in the New Testament. Among other things, this means that I have a ridiculous amount of school work to get to in the next week (a large paper on the nature of Spiritual Gifts, which I plan on blogging about as soon as possible).

Last week I mentioned that I would be finishing my series on Biblical worship with a post on applying the theological principles to the corporate musical praise setting. And I really, honestly thought that I would be doing that this week. Unfortunately I just do not have time. So give me another week or so to finish school and I will get to it as soon as I can.

In the mean time my reading in Calvin (for the same class) yielded another gem I thought was well worth passing on, this one on our spiritual stance towards the preacher and the preached Word:
Again this is the best and most useful exercise in humility, when [God] accustoms us to obey his Word, even though it be preached through men like us and sometimes even by those of lower worth than we. If he spoke from heaven, it would not be surprising if his sacred oracles were to be reverently received without delay by the ears and minds of all. For who would not dread the presence of his power? Who would not be stricken down at the sight of such great majesty? Who would not be confounded at such boundless splendor? But when a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God's name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing. (Calvin, Institutes, IV.iii.1)
Don't get too hung up on the obvious counter-example of Israel, who did in fact see God speak in those majestic ways and did not respond. I'll fall back on the Holy Spirit's role in keeping us from doing the same thing.

The intention of the Cross, Examined.

By Damian Romano

A few months back popular online magazine Reformed Perspectives of Third Millennium Ministries published my article called Complete Grace. Its basically a brief primer on the doctrine of election. Well, as of today they posted another article I wrote called The Intention of the Cross, Examined. The article briefly examines the ever so controversial topic of limited atonement. It will be featured all week in the current issue of RP magazine.

You can access it here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Does God Relent?

by Damian Romano

A few months back I did a series of posts where I reviewed and interacted with William Hasker's book The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering. Well since then I haven't done a whole lot of reading on the subject but then came across this quote from John Frame on the topic of God's alleged relenting. I found it good foder for contemplation and feel Dr. Frame does well in addressing the subject.

How then should we understand God’s “relenting?” For one thing, God states as a general policy in Jer. 18:5-10 that if he announces judgment and people repent, he will relent; similarly if he pronounces blessing and people do evil. In other words, relenting is part of God’s unchanging plan, not a change forced on him by his ignorance. Further, God is not only transcendent, but immanent. He has dwelled on earth in the tabernacle and temple, in Christ, and in his general omnipresence (Psm. 139:7-12). When God interacts with people in time, he does one thing, then another. He curses, then blesses. His actions are in temporal sequence and therefore, in one sense, changing. But these changes are the outworking of God’s eternal plan, which does not change.

It is important, then, to see God as working from both above and below, in eternity and time, not only in time as open theists propose.

John M. Frame, Does the Bible Affirm Open Theism?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

William Evans on Barth, McCormack, and Barth's View of Scripture

By Andrew Faris

I don't know much about Barth (Gasp! How then can I be taken seriously as a theological thinker???), but I thought this was an interesting piece by William Evans on the subject. His conclusion is particularly provocative:
I am also struck by the parallel to Friedrich Schleiermacher--a comment that will probably surprise those who hold to the conventional view of Barth as an implacable opponent of the "father of liberal theology." In the mid-nineteenth-century context Schleiermacher was trumpeted as a bridge from the barren rationalism of Kant to orthodoxy. The church historian Philip Schaff, for example, argued in this fashion (see his Germany: Its Universities, Theology, and Religion [Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1857], 320). But bridges can be crossed in both directions, and while initially the preponderance of traffic over die Schleiermacherbrücke was toward more conservative forms of theology, the long-term story has been quite the opposite. I sense that the same is and will continue to be true of Barth.

Dennis Prager on the Anti-Prop 8 Musical

By Andrew Faris

Dennis Prager has written a response to Mark Shaiman's anti-prop 8 musical (which, as the article mentions, has been viewed over 2 million times on the internet).

A little background on the characters in this story: Shaiman directed "Hairspray" and is a Tony award-winner. This is not small time.

Prager is a conservative Jewish radio host (around here he's on 870 from 9 a.m.-noon) whose show I highly recommend. What stands out about Prager is how well-rounded his thoughtfulness is. He teaches college Torah classes (his article mentions that he is teaching Leviticus right now) and does not limit his radio show to just politics. As a Jew, he loves, appreciates, and genuinely tries to understand where Christians are coming from- you'll get a sense of that in this article.

Here is the article's conclusion:

But none of that matters. In an age when most college graduates know little or nothing about the Bible -- which, until the baby boomer generation, was the most widely read, most widely studied, and most widely revered book in America -- they will learn all they think they need to know about the Bible and homosexuality from a three-minute musical on the Internet.

Hatred based on ignorance is known as bigotry. Making the bigotry of much of the anti-Proposition 8 activism apparent is Marc Shaiman’s significant, if inadvertent, contribution.

Why can’t Shaiman and his fellow activists acknowledge that there are good people on both sides of this issue? Those of us who supported Proposition 8 readily acknowledge that many good people differ with us. Neither position is inherently hateful, but this little musical is.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All I Want for Christmas is for Tom Wright to Finish the Fourth Volume in Christian Origins and the Question of God... (part 3)

By Jeff Bruce

Today we cap off our series with one final question.

Question 3.
Why do you minimize the soteriological meaning of justification?

The following is one of Wright's more popular remarks about justification;

In standard Christian theological language, [justification] wasn't so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; no so much about salvation as about the church.
[What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); 119].

Wright conceives of justification as membership language. Paul employs such language to answer the question, "how can one tell who is in the family of God?" In fairness to the bishop, he does not - like some - reduce the word to a social-scientific term employed for purposes of group legitimation. However, in so emphasizing the social dimension (or implication) of justification, Wright neglects to adequately explicate the relationship between justification and Jesus’ death on the cross. Simon Gathercole [“Justified by Faith, Justified by his Blood: The Evidence of Romans 3:21-4:25,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seidfrid (vol. 2: Tübingen/Grand Rapids: Mohr Siebeck/Baker Academic, 2004); 147-184] has carefully traced Paul’s argument in Romans, noting that Jesus’ propitiatory death (3:24-26) is God’s judicial condemnation of sin (cf. Rom 8:1). God’s forbearance toward humans is permissible because his wrath has fallen on Jesus. The corollary is that humans can be justified by God even in their ungodly/unrighteous state (Rom 4:4-5; cf. 5:6-9). Paul encapsulates this line of thinking in Romans 4:25, when he says that Jesus was, “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (ESV). Paul conspicuously juxtaposes the cross and justification (see also Rom 5:9). Further, given that the cross is - quite literally - the crux of salvation, it becomes difficult to comprehend how Wright can maintain that justification has more to do with ecclesiology than soteriology. Here are a couple quotes that sum up the matter better than I can... reducing (or more properly over-emphasizing) justification to a legitimisation of Christian identity, there is the danger that Paul's theocentric language of divine vindication and his apocalyptic framework of human rebellion, redemption and cosmic renewal are wrongly sidelined. Yet justification is fundamentally a vertical category where God's wrath against sinful humanity is propitiated and believers emerge as acquitted rather than condemned by God's righteousness.
[Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective (PBM: Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007); 101-102]

...justification is not something God does in the abstract, and on a merely individual basis. In sending his son, God has provided the means of justification. So inseparable is Christ's death from justification, that if justification were possible through some other means, such as the Law, then Christ's death would have been in vain (Gal 2:21). The atoning death of Christ is, for Paul, the ground of the justification of the ungodly. Sin has been punished in Christ, hence the ungodly can be justified (Rom 4:5). Sin has been reckoned to Christ, hence sin is not reckoned to the blessed person whose sins have been forgiven (Rom 4:6-8). All this is accomplished by the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and who justifies all who have faith in him.
(Simon Gathercole, "Justified by Faith, Justified by his Blood," 183)

It looks as though I'll have to wait awhile for my wish to be answered. In the mean time, I will continue pleading that Tom take a weekend sabbatical and crank out this book.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Calvin on the Hardness of the Human Heart to God's Grace

By Andrew Faris

As much as I enjoy Calvin's theology, he is less inclined to brandish his rhetoric than some of his contemporaries. So I was delightfully surprised by this comment on the hardness of the human heart: "Even though [John in Jn. 12:37-38] does not excuse the obstinate from blame, he is still content with this reason, that God's grace is tasteless to men until the Holy Spirit brings it savor." (Calvin, Institutes, III.xxiv.14; emphasis mine)

Monday Morning Blues?

By: Jenny Bruce

Maybe your city is your problem.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Carol Curriculum

By: Jenny Bruce

Over my six and a half years working in children's ministry, there have been some hits (constructing a model of a Roman road using Cocoa Puffs, whipped cream, chocolate chips, graham crackers, and M&Ms) and some big misses (trying to explain the meaning of baptism by dying eggs, only to have my Sunday schoolers come to the conclusion that baptism is "when you dip yourself in dye.")

One thing that I have found to be fun and effective is explaining the meaning of Jesus' birth through the following carols: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "Joy To The World." Each carol contains stellar theology and teaching with them allows you to combine Bible study, vocabulary, music appreciation, church history, and art into one lesson!

Since Christmas is around the corner, I thought I'd post ideas for a new carol each Saturday. These activities are geared towards elementary schoolers, but you can always adapt them to work with younger or older kids. Today we'll take a look at "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Music Appreciation: Find a recording of the carol and listen to it with your kids. You may want to give them markers and paper and let them draw a picture inspired by the music they're listening to. Then discuss questions like: "What is one word you would use to describe this song?" "Did you like listening to this song? Why or why not?" "How did this song make you feel?" "What kinds of pictures entered your mind as you listened to this song?" If you want to be really hardcore, play a variety of recordings of the carol and have your kids compare, contrast, and choose their favorite.

Discuss The Carol: Read through "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" with your kids, explaining what each line means. I use this carol to focus specifically on the incarnation and ask questions like: "Where was Jesus before He came down to earth and was born as a baby?" "What do you think Jesus’ life was like in heaven?" "What are some things you like about being a human?" "What are some hard things about being a human?" "Why did Jesus choose to leave the comforts of heaven, become a human and experience all these difficult things?" "When Jesus became a human, was He no longer God?"

Sing The Carol: Sing along with a recording, play instruments, or sing it acapella.

Do A Word Search: This is a neat way to expand your kids' vocabulary and discuss some of the tough words in the carol. Visit Discovery Education's Puzzlemaker and make your own word search using lyrics from the carol such as incarnate, reconciled, veiled, mercy, etc.

Make An Ornament: The preparation for this craft is a bit labor intensive, but it's a swell project if you have the time. Visit a craft store and purchase ribbon, Mod Podge, small wooden angel cut outs (they're about 25 cents), and holiday scrapbook paper. Hot glue a ribbon loop to the back of the wooden angel. Then type the lyrics to the carol in a variety of fun fonts, print them on a few pages of scrapbook paper, and cut out the lyrics. Help your kids brush the Mod Podge onto the backs of the lyrics and glue them all over the angel. When they're finished, coat the entire ornament in Mod Podge to give it a nice sheen. You can talk about the lyrics to the carol as you complete the craft.

Construct A God/Man Thaumatrope: Thaumatropes were popular among children in the Victorian age, are super easy to make, and are a surprisingly good way to describe the hypostatic union. Trace the bottom of a mug onto a piece of poster board and cut out the circle. Punch a hole on opposite edges of the circle and attach a short loop of string to each hole. Help your kids write "God" on one side of the circle and "Man" on the other. Then hold the strings between your fingers and twist them to wind up the toy. When you let them unwind, the two words will merge into one and you'll see "God" and "Man" at the same time.

Bake Gingerbread Men: I know this activity might seem like a bit of a stretch, but it's a neat way to discuss the implications of humanity. Bake and decorate gingerbread men. While you eat the fruits of your labor, talk about some of the difficult things about being human. Explain that Jesus experienced the same difficult things that we experience and understands our hardships. Then take some time to pray about together about your concerns and fears, knowing that Jesus understands what it's like to be a human.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hermeneutical Guidelines for a Theology of Worship (Part 3)

By Andrew Faris

A quick recap to start: I have thus far argued that the Bible does not give us much direction for the specifics of musical worship, instead giving us the theological principles around which we must construct specific application. The guiding theological principle that the Bible gives to this end is that all of life is worship. Therefore musical worship should aim to encourage a more worshipful life. The NT consistently refers to almost all congregational activity through this paradigm.

Whereas I defended that assertion with a few texts in my last post, my purpose here is to show the way that the Bible bears this out over the course of salvation-history. For this task I am almost entirely indebted to D. A. Carson's article entitled, "Worship under the Word" in the book he edited entitled Worship by the Book (which I cannot recommend any higher). This is a large task, so I hope you will excuse the length of this post.

One of the of the key differences between the Old and New Testaments is the locality of God. Of course, God has always been omnipresent, but God's corporate election of Israel is marked by His unique presence with that people. This is why the Exodus, the definitive event in God calling out a nation for himself (not just a person and his future descendants, but those descendants as a nation), culminates at Mt. Sinai.

The first half of the Book of Exodus is Yahweh's self-revelation in the action-packed deliverance of His people. But suddenly, right around Ex. 19, the narrative slows down. Israel is no longer on the run- they are at the foot of Sinai, interacting with a God who they do not dare come near. Yahweh responds by teaching His people what it means to worship Him. This starts with the Ten Commandments and other Laws to govern daily obedience in relationship with Yahweh (Ex. 20-24), but continues with detailed instructions for the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, and the congregational worship that will characterize Israelite life with His unique presence (Ex. 25-32, 35-40).

The amount of space given to these instructions and the descriptions of their implementation that follow should alert us to the importance of the life of the cultus when the nation of Israel forms as the people of Yahweh. In case we miss it, the text is explicit:
It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory...I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God. (Ex. 29:42-43, 45-46)
This aspect of Yahweh's relationship with Israel continued throughout the generations leading up to Christ, including the grander display seen in the temple, where again God's presence uniquely dwelt with His people. Congregational worship in Israel therefore included meeting with God in a central location because God Himself was uniquely present in a central location.

Thus Carson rightly says, "Worship was powerfully tied to cultus." (Carson, "Worship Under the Word," 35) The life of the cultus, including the ark (and later the temple), the priests, the sacrifices, and so on represented an enormous part of human interaction with God. Of course, this needs some balance: personal worship mattered so much in OT Israel that God could say that He hated the sacrifices and festivals that He Himself had instituted (Isa. 1:11-14, et. al.). But this also should not be taken to mean that the cultus was unimportant. God's very presence in the midst of His people defined corporate worship.

Which is why it is so striking that the NT redefines almost all of those symbols. No more is there an ark or a temple: Christ is the temple (Jn. 2:13-22). No more is there a tribe of Levitical priests: Christ is the Great High Priest (Heb. 6:14-16) and all believers are priests (1 Pet. 2:5). Sacrifices are lives of worship (Rom. 12:1-2). And so on.

Christ's work on our behalf forces these changes and defines NT worship. In this sense, my "one theological principle" that guides our theology of worship is really just the gospel- in particular, Christ's work as the mediator of God's presence to all people everywhere. So Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) is inaugurated in Jesus, drawing on that same language from Ex. 29 (and originally in God's covenant to Abraham in Gen. 17:8): God will be our God, and we will be His people.

Except that there is no central location anymore. Thus Jesus encouraged not worship on a mountain, but worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:23) and told his disciples that it was better for him to leave them so that he could send the Holy Spirit, who is not limited to one place (Jn. 16:7).

Carson sums all of this up in these words:
The way wholly loving God works out under the new covenant is in heartfelt obedience to the terms of that covenant - and here the language of the cultus has been transmuted to all of life, with the implication, not so much of a desacralization of space and time and food, as with a sacralization of all space and time and food: what God has declared holy let no one declare unholy. (Carson, "Worship under the Word", 40)
And indeed the remainder of the Bible reveals that in the New Creation, this all will be even more pronounced. We eagerly expect the day when the temple is the the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Rev. 21:22). In that day what Christ began will be completed, and again it is characterized by the same language: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Rev. 21:3)

Musical worship now thus in all aspects should be aimed at encouraging in one another the life worship that is the sacrifice of the new covenant. Life-worship was always important, but the "transmutation" (as Carson puts it) of cultus language is a conspicuous indication that in the new covenant it is the paradigm for all Christian activity- most certainly including what we do when we come together. All of life is sacred in a new way as we eagerly expect when it will be such in the newest way. Musical worship, like all of life, should reinforce that one aim: to please God with all of life.

Now, how do we go about carrying that out when all of this theological rubber hits the musical road on Sunday mornings? My final post in this series will offer some suggestions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is Environmentalism the New Legalism?

By Jeff Bruce

To jog our memories, here's a quick definition of legalism from the ever-useful


1. strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, esp. to the letter rather than the spirit.
2. Theology.
a. the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works.
b. the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
3.(initial capital letter) (in Chinese philosophy) the principles and practices of a school of political theorists advocating strict legal control over all activities, a system of rewards and punishments uniform for all classes, and an absolute monarchy.

Living in the Bay Area, I am acutely aware of the growing infatuation with all things green, eco-friendly, sustainable, organic, or endangered species-saving. However, I didn't realize the depth of this obsession until today.

As I was driving to work, I heard a local radio personality announce that on selected days this winter, it will be ILLEGAL to burn firewood in the Bay Area. Initially, I found this hard to believe. But sure enough, the internet (which does not lie) confirmed it to be so.

Read the following from the folks over at Spare the Air.

In July of 2008, the Air District passed Regulation 6, Rule 3: Wood-Burning Devices to reduce fine particulate matter air pollution from wood smoke.

Don't Burn Wood during Winter Spare the Air Alerts

Under this regulation, it is illegal to burn wood, firelogs, or pellets in your fireplace, woodstove, or outdoor firepit on days for which the Air District issues a Winter Spare the Air Alert. The 2008-09 Winter Spare the Air season runs from November 1 through February 28.

What does this mean? It means that whenever the sentinels of fine particle matter over at Spare the Air are so inclined, they can - by enviro-fiat - make it against the law for you to use your chimney. Presumably, they could make it illegal every single day this warning is in effect. And when is this warning in effect? From November 1st through February 28th. This period of the year is better known as winter, and it is generally the time when you'd want to use you're formally-legal wood-burning receptacle.

Recall the definition(s) of legalism above. I submit that this example squares quite nicely with definitions 1 and 2b. Of course this is more than legalism; this is legalism with teeth, since you are now breaking the law if you don't abide by the rule. And now I turn the conversation over to you. Is environmentalism the cool new way to be a legalist?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

These Are a Few of My Favorite Links, Mid-Week Version

This Sunday we didn't quite get to our links post for any number of reasons (e.g. Norm and his wife just had their second child, so I don't think Norm has slept for about 6 days...hopefully he rests on the 7th day).

Most weeks I wouldn't bother revisiting a silly little link post, but I can't pass it up this time just because I've come across to many that I have thought to be absolutely outstanding.

Before I get to mine though, let me point you to Richard John Neuhaus' article from First Things on "The Deadly Convenience Of Christianity Without Culture". That was actually Jenny's link from Sunday which we unfortunately did not get to post.

Now let me point you in the direction of a few others that really are well worth the read:

1. Peter Leithart (whose blog is my new favorite- if you do not subscribe already, stop what you are doing and go subscribe) projects a sobering future history of abortion in America.
2. Leithart also suggests that even if you are all Obama-d out, we should be thankful for the prevalence and ubiquity of a loving African American family.
3. J. T. quotes a powerful section from Fred Sanders' sermon on the Trinity in Romans (go listen to the whole thing, or for that matter, to the whole Grace EV Free series on Romans).
4. Ralph Davis thinks he knows why the church pays no attention to the Old Testament (NB: It is rare that I read all of a post this long, but this one is well worth it). HT: JT.
5. Bill Mounce relates the definite article in 1 Tim. 4:13 to the lack of theological preaching in church.

Enjoy- and I would certainly love to hear any of your thoughts on any of those articles.

Monday, December 1, 2008

All I Want for Christmas is for Tom Wright to Finish the Fourth Volume in Christian Origins and the Question of God... (part 2)

By Jeff Bruce

In light of the comment made by Chris in the meta of last week's post, this whole series seems a tad trivial. We will have to wait until at least 2010 to read Wright's definitive work on Paul. Yet, while my series may not convince Tom to pen his Paul book in the next 23 days, it will provide - I hope - some exegetical grist for your theological mill...or something like that. With that, here's my second question for N.T.

Question 2. Why do you describe Paul's problem primarily in terms of ecclesiology? Wright consistently identifies the problem Paul addresses as ecclesiological in nature [see What St. Paul Really Said, 113-133; Paul in Fresh Perspective, 159-160]. He correctly posits that the Jew/Gentile conflict was an important issue within Paul’s churches; but was it the basic problem besetting these believers? Paul states that the meta-issue for humanity (Jew and Gentile alike) is God’s wrath against sin. Everyone fails to give God the glory he is due (Rom 3:23), and therefore all are liable to judgment. Nowhere is this clearer than in Romans 5, where Paul casts justification against the backdrop of humanity's two representative heads; Adam and Christ. Humanity-in-Adam is characterized by condemnation, while humanity-in-Christ experiences justification (5:16, 18). If one sees the ecclesiological schisms within the house churches as Paul’s primary concern, then justification will provide the answer to this sort of problem (i.e. it will be an ecclesiological solution). However, if Paul’s concern - albeit entailing ecclesiological elements - is more universal in scope (e.g. the plight of rebellious Adamic humanity), then justification will provide the answer to a more cosmic and soteriological problem. I do not think Wright is entirely off course in this regard. Rather, I question whether the explanatory force of his analysis has sufficient breadth to account for all the facets of Paul's teaching.

Take "works of the law" as a case in point. Paul denies that justification is by works of the law (Gal 2:16; Rom 3:20). The phrase certainly has something to do with possession of the law. The Jews were estranging Gentiles in the house churches through boasting in their covenantal distictives; particulary those distinctives which marked them out from the Gentiles. Therefore, there is an ecclesiogical problem. However, works of the law can denote not just possession of the law, but performance as well (cf. Rom 3:20; 4:5). Therefore, Paul also envisages the problem as soteriological. Paul denies justification via works of the law not just because the churches are in a tight spot, but because humanity-in-Adam does not have the requisite ability to obey God's commands. Because Wright starts off with the wrong problem (or at least, a reductionistic understanding thereof), he misdiagnoses the meaning of the solution. Justification is Paul’s answer to the human dilemma, not merely the Jew/Gentile dilemma.