Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Away With This Epicurean Fluff!

We've all seen these fluff books about slowing down life and taking time to enjoy simplicity (Note: I said we've all seen these books; not read them; you guys are better than that [though evidently I am not]). Well, my wife seems to get dozens of these every time a holiday comes around. Earlier today, my daughter started picking through our books and chose one for me to read to her entitled 50 Things That Really Matter. Immediately I knew this would not really be about anything that actually matters. That's right; I could judge this book by it's cover. Look at this cover. Am I to believe that this image of a child running on the beach is to define life and it's meaning? Surely the sentimentalist authors want me to think so.

Anyway, I opened the book and read the 50 chapter headings in order to get an idea of the worldview of the editors. Sure enough, here were some of the chapter heads: Warm Spring Days, Bubble Baths, Puppies, Seashells (give me a break! They're stretching just to get to that 50), Candlelight, A Good Book (Depends on the book), Sad Movies (Oh goodness; how did the rest of humanity find meaning in life before the invention of celluloid?), Hugs, A Child's Art, Summer Nights, and so on and so forth.

The second rate philosophy student within me was, however, pleased to find that the introduction was entitled "Defining What Really Matters." Sure enough, even though the writing was drippy like sentimental syrup, I was able to discover exactly what I was looking for: a world view. Sort of. "What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we all can enjoy them; the plain values that define us as good people; the emotional connections with friends and family that fill our soul with a sense of purpose... After all, happiness doesn't lie in the objects we gather around us. It lies within us." Reaction against hedonistic materialism. Self sufficiency. Autonomy. No vertical relationship between man and God; for the editors, values and faith are simply a tool to establish an identity for ourselves.

The statement that the thing which matters most is "the simple pleasures" is a mushy way of saying, "Epicureanism may have died out as a formal religion, but I'll be damned if we can't make this thing work!" After all, the editors of this book, like the Epicureans, are not hedonists. They are not blind in their pursuit of aesthetic pleasure. They are reasonable and controlled, preferring non-harmful pleasures such as sunsets, puppies, candlelight, etc. Because of this, they can fall in under the Christian radar as being "moral," "thoughtful," or as "valuing faith." In the meantime, the entirety of the book is teaching (I use the term "teaching" very lightly) people to value horizontal experience to the detriment of the truly defining relationship which establishes everything about who we are, why we act, and what we desire: our relationship to God as revealed in Christ Jesus. Either we are in a negative relationship to Him as an enemy, or we are in a positive relationship to Him as an adopted child, being brought into His favor through no worth of our own.

Now, before I get some letter from the editors (however unlikely that may be), I want to be clear that there is actually a chapter on "faith." It is literally a page and a half (large type, double spaced) and all it consists of is the story of the man who is about to fall and keeps asking God for help. In the story, God keeps sending boats and friends to help him, all the while the man is looking for a bona fide miracle. Anyway, the author of this particular chapter concludes that, "Each day, angels visit the doorsteps of the faithful, leaving gifts that quietly offer God's grace, comfort, and protection. All we have to do is recognize them and pick them up." It turns out, faith exists to help us, not because God deserves the credit.

The book ends with a suggestion that the reader say, "I love and approve of myself" over and over again, hundreds of times a day. You know what they say, if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start to believe it. Anyway, again you should notice that the emphasis is not on divine approval (the vertical relationship). It is, once again, on personal approval (the horizontal relationship); as if that is what matters most; as if that can actually heal our lives in any substantial way. Not to be too evangelistic (it's not my strong-suit), but if you don't have divine approval, then you have no basis upon which to approve of yourself, either. After all, how can you consider yourself a good worker if the boss can't help but kick you every single time you walk by?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Unprofessional Beer Review: La Fin Du Monde

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31

Here at Bring the Books, we not only feel that we should eat to the glory of God, but we also feel that the things we drink should be to His glory, as well. This morning, I had orange juice and coffee, but that's not interesting. What is interesting, though, is what I had this evening with the men in my "accountability group" which meets (seemingly) on a bi-annual basis. And so begins what I hope will be a new tradition here at Bring the Books: The Unprofessional Beer Review.

Now, drinking beer has a rich history in Reformed circles. Martin Luther was known to throw a few back in his day, and how boring would monastic life have been living under the Roman Catholic regime if it hadn't been for beer? It's a rhetorical question, but I'll answer anyway: very boring.

In fact, I recall one of our professors sitting in class making an extraordinary attempt to paint the image of Martin Luther, beads of sweat on his forehead as he tried to understand Romans. Part of our professor's word-image of Luther was the image of this irreverent, farting genius, dividing Christendom; all the while holding this half-empty Steiner with a few notches carved into the handle. It was in this moment that I looked around at my Reformed friends in class and thought, "There is nothing un-Christian about drinking beer." I realized that this is a rich and long-held tradition which has only recently (in the last two hundred years, the same time frame for the rise of dispensationalism, coincidentally) come under the scrutiny of the tea-totalers.*

And so, we here at Bring the Books are taking back beer for Jesus. And tonight, I want to make my first toast to a glorious drink called La Fin Du Monde, which is french for "The End of the World." And might I say, dear friends, that if the world was ending tonight, this is the drink you would want clutched under one arm with your Bible in the other. A light triple-fermented beer, this is a light ale which I greatly enjoyed. It is light without a strong or obnoxious aftertaste. Bottled in Canada, we now have just one more reason to keep our finger away from the button and aim those nukes back at Antarctica where they belong. At 9% alcohol, I was the first one at my mens' group tonight confessing my sins and opening my heart for all my accountability partners to see.

Of course, we here at Bring the Books do not condone drunkenness, so I cannot emphasize enough that the 1 1/2 Pint bottle is meant to be shared in Christian fellowship. Remember: drinking alone is not only sad, but if you finish off the whole bottle, you will be in violation of Scriptural prohibitions against drunkenness. (Unless you're a lightweight like Josh Walker, in which case you should only have about a thimble-full.) After having half the bottle, not only was I feeling good, but I still had enough faculties about me to recite the pledge of allegiance, recite the alphabet backwards, and walk in a straight line, but I was even able to present compelling reasons why Christians should abandon this whole trendy global warming bandwagon.

Overall, in my unprofessional opinion, I rate La Fin Du Monde a solid 8.0 on a scale of 1 to 10, and I highly recommend it for the purposes of fellowshipping with fellow believers. The bottle is big enough for sharing, and the flavor is very light and delicious with hardly any aftertaste (I'm not a big fan of aftertastes). You've done it again, Canada. You've done it again!

*[Sorry, tea-totalers, but this simply is not an article defending alcohol. Maybe I'll write one in the future if a lot of abolitionists cry out against it, but this beer review is not the place where that's going to happen. I may write an article defending the occasional use of tobacco (which I have been made aware is apparently talked about all over Scripture!) for the purposes of Christian fellowship, but this is, again, neither the time nor the place for that.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Philippians 2:7

I am working on a paper for my Pauline class taught by Dr. Guy Waters here at RST. Here are a few exegetical thoughts I have for Philippians 2:7, "but made himself nothing, taking the nature of a slave, becoming the form of a man and being found as human likeness."

1) There is a whole theory of the incarnation, the ‘kenotic’ theory, that is built on this passage, in fact on one phrase, avlla. e`auto.n evke,nwsen,, “but emptied himself,” or literally, “but himself emptied.” This theory teaches that at the incarnation Christ emptied himself of the form of God. That is, at the incarnation Christ divested himself of all the distinctive of deity; he set aside is infinitude. To this theory we can make the following objections. First, it is illegitimate to translate evke,nwsen as ‘emptied.’ All of the other uses of evke,nwsen in the New Testament have a metaphorical uses, such as 1 Corinthians 1:17, “the cross of Christ should be of no effect.” Second, and more formidably, this passage says nothing as to what was ‘emptied.” Thus, even if we grant the translation of ‘emptied,’ the theory still cannot find support in this text because this text is silent as to what was ‘emptied’ in the incarnation. However we understand evke,nwsen it cannot mean that Christ ceased to be what he was, God. Now, given the context of Paul’s exhortation, it seems best to take evke,nwsen to mean the humiliation or the ‘lowering’ Christ did at the incarnation (Macleod, 19-26)

2) e`auto.n is a reflexive pronoun. This is frequently done to denote that the subject is also the object of the action of the verb. In this case it indicates that Christ is the one who did the action and the one who received the action (Wallace, 350).

3) At least one thing Paul has in mind by morfh.n dou,lou labw,n is the fact that Christ became under the law. That is, in the incarnation Christ voluntarily subjected himself to the Law of God (Macloed, 27). Paul spells this out more clearly in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

4) The two participial phrases here (1. taking the nature of a slave and 2. becoming the form of a man) should be seen as model. That is, they explain the mode or way in which Christ “made himself nothing” (Fee, 211).

5) Further, these two participial phrases (from #4) are in such close relationship (both are model participles and as such they complete the main verb) that their meaning should be seen as parallel. In other words, Paul is saying the same thing in two different ways (Melick, 104).

6) There is a textual variant in this text. P46, with support by some versional and patristic evidence, read avnqrw,pon instead of avnqrw,pwn. The reason for this should not be seen in theological motivation, but rather as a simple assimilation to the singular dou,lon. This is a common scribal error in the P46 manuscript.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reflecting Upon Infant Death

Tonight, I was reflecting upon the heaviness and dreadfulness of the consequences of sin in our world. In particular, I was thinking of dear friend of mine whom I have known since childhood. Four months into her pregnancy, she has discovered that the child she carries has no heartbeat. My wife and I having experienced the miscarriage of our twins, I am well acquainted with the horror of losing a child. The situation reminded me once again of the horrible effects of sin in our world.

Sometimes, when I meet or speak with those who deny the reality of original sin, I find myself befuddled with their position. But in times like these, I feel an exaggerated sense of confusion with regard to the Pelagian position. If sin is something which is learned, then how is it possible for our innocent children to perish at all? If death is a just (I want to emphasize just) result of sin, then how can Pelagianism account for babies with no heartbeat or twins who die after only 4 months in their mother's womb?

I realize that Scripture is a much better argument against Pelagianism than experience, but I want to take this opportunity to express my own indignation towards this ongoing heresy in what is supposed to be the modern "Christian" church. To deny original sin may give some teachers the satisfaction of feeling that we are "truly" free, but this solution presents more problems than it solves. The death of those who have not even learned to sin cannot be accounted for given the Pelagian system, I would argue.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Open Offer From Bring The Books: Use These Blurbs!

In an effort to increase the visibility of our blog here at Bring the Books, I have decided to provide a generous service to Reformed book publishers everywhere. Rather than sending us your books in an effort to get blurbs to put on the back of your books (we get so many we'll never get them all read!), we have a list of ready-to-use blurbs which publishers can use to endorse virtually any book they decide to churn out, without the slightest protest from us here at Bring the Books.

"[Insert Author's Name] has written a tome which is crucial for Christians today who want to understand things."

"A moderately enjoyable read. I would have preferred less footnotes, more references to Battlestar Galactica, and the occasional video game review, but hey - they can't all be the latest issue of Geek Monthly!"

"Though J.I. Packer has probably already endorsed this book, let me throw my hat in the ring as well."

"This book was written by a person." [Note: Please do not use this particular blurb if the book was written by a computer program, a fetus (totally kidding!) or some advanced life-form not qualifying as a "person" in the traditional philosophical sense.]

"A white-knuckle read (if you read it while driving very fast)."

"If you scrutinize the wording of this book, I think you will find, at the least, a grade school English education."

"Makes the Westminster Confession look like The Cat In The Hat!"

"The binding of this book is adequate, and the cover is definitely something to look at."

"Another masterpiece from the Stephen King of Reformed Theology: [Author's Name] strikes again!"

"This book has words in it."

"This book wasn't really doing it for me until I started reading it at the same time as I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon. They totally line up!"

"You couldn't pay me to use this book as a doorstop." [Note to publishers: Only to be used with bad books.]

"[Author's Name] out-James-Whites James White!"

"In this book, [Insert Author's Name] has once again made open theism look ridiculous. Granted, Open Theism hasn't been cool for at least 2 or 3 years and this book is definitely behind the times, but nevertheless, the author has still made open theists look very un-hip, as is only proper."

"If I didn't already know everything there is to know about this subject, I would have learned a lot from this book!"

"A film adaptation of this book would be pretty boring, but as a book it's alright."

"John Piper could have written this book much better, but at $2 cheaper, you can't beat the value."

"[Author's Name] basically plagiarized pages 219-258 of Berkhof's Systematic Theology, but that's a good thing!"

"Definitely a readable book (unless you are illiterate)."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?

Calvin has this to say in his commentary on Romans 8:22.

The first and the chief consolation of the godly in adversities, is to be fully persuaded of the paternal kindness of God; for hence arises the certainty of their salvation, and that calm quietness of the soul through which it comes that adversities are sweetened, or at least the bitterness of sorrow mitigated. Hardly then a more suitable encouragement to patience could be adduced than this, a conviction that God is propitious to us; and hence Paul makes this confidence the main ground of that consolation, by which it behoves the faithful to be strengthened against all evils. And as the salvation of man is first assailed by accusation, and then subverted by condemnation, he in the first place averts the danger of accusation. There is indeed but one God, at whose tribunal we must stand; then there is no room for accusation when he justifies us. The antithetic clauses seem not indeed to be exactly arranged; for the two parts which ought rather to have been set in opposition to each other are these: “Who shall accuse? Christ is he who intercedes:” and then these two might have been connected, “Who shall condemn? God is he who justifies;” for God’s absolution answers to condemnation, and Christ’s intercession to accusation. But Paul has not without reason made another arrangement, as he was anxious to arm the children of God, as they say, from head to foot, with that confidence which banishes all anxieties and fears. He then more emphatically concludes, that the children of God are not subject to an accusation, because God justifies, than if he had said that Christ is our advocate; for he more fully expresses that the way to a trial is more completely closed up when the judge himself pronounces him wholly exempt from guilt, whom the accuser would bring in as deserving of punishment. There is also a similar reason for the second clause; for he shows that the faithful are very far from being involved in the danger of condemnation, since Christ by expiating their sins has anticipated the judgment of God, and by his intercession not only abolishes death, but also covers our sins in oblivion, so that they come not to an account.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Some Un-Theological Stuff

Interesting Thing A:
At my job today, I made a delivery to a senile old man, and when I was done, he asked (in the most serious tone possible, without a hint of joking), "Can I have a goodbye kiss?"

Interesting Thing B:
Is anyone else tired of Deal or No Deal? I mean, there's only so much you can do with a game show about opening briefcases until you find the right one! How long will it be before they make a TV show about looking for loose change in sofas? No time at all; that's how long. I'll bet there's somebody out there who TiVOs each episode of DOND and has to watch it as part of his weekly ritual: "Sorry honey, I can't come to bed until I find out if Steve from Rhode Island finds the right briefcase." There's not even any skill to this game! It's really just opening random suitcases until you find the right one. Arrested Development got cancelled, but they're still putting garbage like this on the air. For shame.

On the note of TV shows that are past their time, how long is it going to be before we all hold hands and decide that ER should be off the air by now? I'm even bored with the commercials for the show! And they're only 15 seconds long!

Interesting Thing C:
Battlestar Galactica is back on after a year-long hiatus. The first episode of the new season was awesome; I think we can all admit it. By the way, how long until the PCA announces BSG as the official best TV program ever? Oh wait, I guess it was the SBC who issues statements about any and every social issue anyone can think of, including what they think (or don't think) about global warming. Sorry for the mix-up, PCA!

Interesting Thing D:
An Egyptian court found three men guilty of homosexuality. And in a twist of fate the three men probably found ironically pleasant, they were sentenced to three years in prison (or as the men are calling it, "Heaven"). [Insert Cymbal Crash]

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Permission to Brag?

Permission granted. This is my little girl. She is 2 years old, and I'm extremely proud of her.

Bonus: Here's a hilarious little moment we captured during dinner time prayers after catching her sneaking her food a lot while we prayed:

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Oprah is the Anti-Christ.

I have a friend who calls Oprah the Anti-Christ. In the past I would laugh when he said this, but now, I think he is right.

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Thoughts Exactly

There is a good blog here. I have had this thought many times.

The Quotes Thread

Alright, folks; let's amass an amazing collection of good solid Reformed quotes up here! I'll start us off:

"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's Truth was attacked and yet would remain silent." John Calvin

"Take heed...The devil is a greater scholar than you." Richard Baxter

"A man's most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe." Euripides

"God has not deserted his Church; he has brought her through even darker hours than those which try our courage now, yet the darkest hour has always come before the dawn. We have today the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity. But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won. And another Reformation on God's good time will come." J. Gresham Machen, 1923

"We are not won by arguments that we can analyze but by tone and temper, by the manner which is the man himself." Samuel Butler

"Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all dreadfully cracked about the head and desperately in need of mending." Herman Melville (in Moby Dick)

"We cannot find God for the same reason a thief cannot find a police officer." Michael Horton

"Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true Christianity...But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching that is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin." J.C. Ryle

"Oh, how rare are the Christians who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel." John Piper

"If I see a man who loves the Lord Jesus in sincerity, I am not very solicitous to what communion he belongs. The Kingdom of God, I think, does not consist in such things." George Whitefield

"If any man doth ascribe salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright." Martin Luther

"The most tremendous judgment of God in this world is the hardening of the hearts of men." John Owen

"Deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man, myself." Thomas Benton Brooks

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Music You Can Emerge To

Here is a song that will lead to a "revolution of hope," or so the title of the cd says. This song is from a cd produced by Brian Mclaren. Not only is he a unorthodox theologian, but now he is a bad music producer.

Pay particular attention to this lyric, "I am a atheist when it comes to the view of the chosen few, who judge and condemn all who differ them." I wounder who they have in mind here. Is this valid? You tell me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Worst Thing Ever!

If you sit through this to the end, I will congratulate you, and even refer to you with the title "The Highlander" just to emphasize your power and greatness.

My favorite part is when the bartender is dancing along with him, having what is clearly the time of his life.

By the way, I did this because I needed a break. Either that, or I was going to post the script I had written for an episode of Arrested Development which I still hope to someday submit to Mitch Hurwitz.